SAN DIEGO, September 10, 2013 – Same-sex marriages are now officially legal in Minnesota and Rhode Island. They are the 12th and 13th states to recognize gay marriages after state legislators passed laws making same-sex marriages legal in both states as of August 1.
Dozens of couples in both states exchanged vows just after midnight at the earliest possible opportunity afforded to them under the new laws.
But as day follows night, the first gay divorce was also filed in Rhode Island on August 1. The first gay divorce was finalized in Colorado earlier in the week, a precedent for same-sex couples who were legally married in another state but are now living in Colorado.
A woman who was married in Massachusetts in 2008 is now living in Rhode Island as she completes her residency as a physician. She and her wife were separated in 2011. They could not divorce in Rhode Island at the time. The Rhode Island Supreme Court had ruled in 2006 that same-sex divorces could not be executed in the state because the state didn’t recognize same-sex marriages in the first place. Her divorce paperwork was filed in August alongside couples getting their marriage certificates.
A new civil union law treats same-sex marriages performed outside Colorado the same as a heterosexual couple’s marriage. New residents of Colorado must live in the state 90 days before filing for divorce, so no quickee style divorces here. So far, seven couples have filed for divorce in Colorado since the law went into effect on May 1.
The couple, Juli Yim and Lorelei Jones, got married in Massachusetts in 2009. Yim told the Coloradoan newspaper their relationship simply didn’t last. Yim moved to Colorado, but didn’t formally dissolve her marriage with Jones until the law changed. “In a way, it’s not necessarily a great thing to be celebrating,” Yim said. “By the same token, I have been trying for years to take care of this but have not had an opportunity to live in a state that allowed that.”
In the 13 states where gay marriage is currently legal, most require in-state residency to dissolve a relationship. Because of the mish-mash of laws currently governing marriage in the United States, couple who have moved from one state where same-sex marriage is legal to another where it is not can end up putting their lives on hold.
Colorado’s new civil union law covers basic legal protections such as division of property, financial responsibility between former spouses, parental visitation and child support to splitting couples, provided one involved individual has lived in Colorado for more than 90 days.
So what if your marriage breaks up and you aren’t in one of these states? Can you get divorced? The recent Supreme Court rulings haven’t begun to address these problems. Right now, the decision isn’t up to you, it’s up to the local family court. If you can’t get a divorce decree, and then you move to a state where marriage is legal, you can’t get married because you aren’t legally divorced.
Same-sex couples will continue to face problems with parental rights, adoption, visitation, and child support. When one parent is the biological parent, all bets are off for the spouse if this wasn’t worked out in advance.
Civil unions cannot guarantee all the same rights afforded by marriage to same-sex couples. To insure their rights aren’t trampled, they must go to an attorney to put into place the many protections the law automatically affords heterosexual married couples. This is time-consuming and as you might guess, it’s expensive. It could be beyond the budget of many couples.
Only thirteen states out of 50 permit same-sex marriage. Do the math. Edging toward same-sex marriage state by state still leaves most of the nation without any same-sex marriage rights. The legal definition of a marriage under this country’s civil laws needs to be made uniform, applicable to all in all 50 states. Courts won’t be clogged and families will be healthier and happier because fairness will exist.
Myra Chack Fleischer serves as Lead Counsel for Fleischer & Ravreby in Carlsbad, California with a focus on divorce, property, custody and support, settlement agreements, mediation, asset division and family law appeals. Read more Legally Speaking in Communities Digital News. Follow Myra on Twitter: @LawyerMyra.
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