Just last month, the United States Supreme Court paved the way for federal recognition of same sex marriages, by striking down Section III of the Defense of Marriage Act ("DOMA"). But while gay couples in San Diego and throughout California have found some welcome relief from the obstacles to getting married, many are reporting great difficulties when trying to get a divorce. Deciding to divorce is no easy decision. Irrespective of whether the couple is heterosexual or of the same sex, the ensuing process is typically fraught with high emotions and complicated procedures. An experienced family law attorney can help to anticipate the difficult moments and seek to protect your rights every step of the way.
According to a recent Huffington Post article, gay couples have reported that when seeking a divorce, courthouse staff do not know what to do. At least one person interviewed indicated that the extra paperwork alone delayed the divorce for an entire year. Of course, with lengthy delays one may typically expect to find an increase in costs and fees. Part of the confusion seems to be related to the issue of geography. If a gay couple is living in a state that does not recognize same sex marriage, in all likelihood one of the parties will have to move to a state that does, in order to dissolve the marriage.
In addition to the complicated matter of geography and varying state laws (or lack thereof), there is the question of when a gay couple's relationship started. Because of the changes that have taken place (and continue to occur) throughout the country, courts have not yet reached a consensus about when a gay couple's legal bond begins. Such ambiguity will surely lead to confusion over when, where and how to obtain a divorce, should it come to that.
Furthermore, the article suggests that a same sex divorce costs twice as much as one involving a heterosexual couple. And if the gay couple also has children, they will find the costs could be tripled. Unfortunately, it seems that it may take some time for states to enact laws that protect same sex couples who seek to divorce, affording them the same rights and privileges as heterosexual couples experience at that stage of their marriage.
Another person interviewed for the article suggested that couples, those specifically who live in states where same sex marriage is recognized, should consider preparing a pre- or post-nuptial agreement in an effort to protect their rights as much as possible. There is no guarantee, however, that the agreement will be enforceable. At this point in time, there seems to be an inconsistency in the way courts have approached and handled divorce proceedings involving gay couples.
In California, registered domestic partners have some options under the law. There is a way to enter into a summary dissolution, should the couple together meet all of the requirements. But it is likely that the laws will be evolving in California and throughout the country. An experienced, local family law attorney can help you to navigate the changing divorce landscape with confidence and ease.
Thomas Huguenor, a divorce attorney certified in family law by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization, has 35 years of experience guiding the people of San Diego through the family law process. If you have questions concerning the division of property, contact us either online or at (858) 458-9500 for a free and confidential consultation.
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