Why divorce for Boston’s same-sex couples is both more and less complicated

Massachusetts is one of the few states in the U.S. that allows same-sex marriage. Regardless of how you feel about that, it is true that allowing same-sex couples to marry can greatly simplify some legal aspects of their lives together. One of those aspects is the end of the relationship, be that by divorce or the death of one of the partners.

Take the case of two men from Minnesota. Although the partners of 25 years were married in San Francisco, Minnesota did not recognize their union. So when one of the men died unexpectedly at 46 without a will, the state’s default estate plan meant that his partner did not have legal standing the same way a wife would and thus did not automatically inherit anything. The surviving partner is now locked in a prolonged and complicated court battle in an attempt to recover what he believes should be his.

Although such a scenario would not play out in Massachusetts, that doesn’t mean we have all legal elements relating to same-sex marriage smoothed out completely. If a same-sex couple wants to get a divorce, it can be trickier than a divorce for a heterosexual couple for several reasons. For example, because gay men and women were not allowed to marry in our state for so long, many couples have been unmarried partners for a long time, which makes their marriages look artificially short. That has implications for things like property division and spousal support.

Finding an attorney who understands the complexity of same-sex couples is one way to address some of the unusual factors inherent in same-sex divorce.

Source: The Star Tribune, “Hennepin probate case shows how marriage law stymies inheritance,” Abby Simons, May 25, 2012

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