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Same-Sex Marriage is Getting Easier, But Same-Sex Divorce is still Tricky

Same Sex Marriage Map from Wikipedia
this version by StephenMacmanus
Since 2004, same-sex couples have been allowed to marry in Massachusetts. A handful of states have followed suit and begun allowing gay marriage (namely, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and the District of Columbia). Some couples have traveled to these states to obtain a same-sex marriage, even though their home state does not permit or recognize their marriage. Further, some same-sex couples that have married in states permitting their marriage have since moved to states that do not recognize their union.

What happens if these couples want to later dissolve their marriage?

A few states that do not permit same-sex marriages, most vocally Texas, have refused to recognize same-sex divorce as well. In opposite-sex marriages, marriages from one state are recognized by all of the other states.  However, the federal law DOMA (the "Defense of Marriage Act") states that no state is required to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. Therefore states that don't allow same-sex marriages can choose to not recognize same-sex marriages from other states as valid marriages.

The rationale behind not allowing same-sex divorce is that those states will not dissolve a legal relationship that they refuse to recognize as valid. For a same-sex married couple that married in Massachusetts but later moved to a state that, like Texas, which won't permit their divorce, obtaining a divorce may prove to be far more complicated than for their opposite-sex counterparts.

Massachusetts requires that parties to a divorce case must have lived together in Massachusetts, and one of the parties must still live in the state when the cause for divorce occurred. Alternatively, if the cause of divorce occurred in Massachusetts, or if one of the parties has lived in Massachusetts for one year, the state will be able to hear their divorce case. If a same-sex couple married in Massachusetts and later moved to Texas, they can't get divorced in Texas or Massachusetts unless they can meet these requirements in Massachusetts, which usually means moving to Massachusetts for at least some period of time.

On the other hand, an opposite-sex couple that married in Massachusetts but later moved to Texas would simply have to meet the jurisdictional requirements of Texas if one of them decided to file for divorce there.

This is just one of the ways that the Federal Law DOMA and the discriminatory enforcement of laws in some states relating to same-sex marriages continues to cause unequal treatment of these same-sex couples.

Should you have any questions about divorce, same-sex or otherwise, contact Attorney Justin L. Kelsey, or call 508.655.5980 to schedule a one hour initial consultation.


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