It did not take long for same-sex couples to begin seeking divorces when Minnesota legalized same-sex unions; in fact, it was only a week after the law was passed when the first divorce petitions were heard. However, this rapid rush to the courthouse was not because newly-wed couples wanted out so quickly; instead, these divorces represent same-sex couples who were legally married elsewhere and have been waiting, in some cases for years, to legally dissolve their unions.
Currently, 37 states do not recognize same-sex marriages. Few of these states are willing to dissolve a marriage they do not recognize as legal in the first place. However, there are a few states that will grant a legal divorce to a couple that could not legally marry within their borders.
In states that do not recognize same-sex marriage, same-sex divorce tends to be more expensive than straight divorce. Out-of-state divorces for same-sex couples averages $20,000 in cost, while for straight couples the cost is around $10,000. If custody is involved, those figures are doubled. In states that do recognize same-sex marriage, costs are relatively equal.
However, same-sex divorce can raise problems other than cost. For example, when two women are involved, the courts may have difficulty determining who is the more “natural” parent for the child. In many jurisdictions, mothers tend to be the automatic choice for custody, so what will the courts do when two mothers or two fathers are involved? These questions have yet to be answered.
Furthermore, child support issues may also be murky for same-sex couples. If both partners work, same-sex couples may find themselves struggling with the same questions that other couples have: how can we determine the most fair custody, visitation and support agreement possible and still meet the needs of our children? All parents in any situation usually want the best outcome for their children and may find that these issues are difficult to resolve no matter what their sexual orientation or marital status.
A divorce attorney may be able to help those who are struggling with either same-sex or straight marriage issues. For those who feel their rights are not being protected, a family law attorney can often provide legal advice and advocacy.
Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal, “A week after gay marriage is legalized, Minn. sees its first divorce,” Stephanie Grimes, August 9, 2013.