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Same-sex divorce has unique complications

The federal government’s recognition of same-sex marriage was a welcome move to many in the LGBT community. However, like many, you may have been in a monogamous relationship long before the Supreme Court ruling. Not only do you now have all the rights opposite-sex couples have, including the rights to marry and adopt children, but you can also legally divorce your spouse.

Unfortunately, for many same-sex couples, divorcing is far more complicated than it is for opposite-sex couples. You have only had access to legal marriage in Virginia since 2014, but you and your partner may have had a deeply committed relationship for many years. Your divorce will only deal with legal matters from the date of your wedding. How do you handle issues that relate to the years, perhaps decades, before?

What’s different about same-sex divorce?

During your long-term relationship, you may have given up hope that the time would come when you could exchange vows and obtain legal recognition as a couple. Nevertheless, perhaps you lived your lives as if you were married. This may have included sharing bank accounts, purchasing a home and adopting children. These legal entanglements may have brought you closer as a couple, but they add an element of complexity to your divorce, such as these issues:

•· Any joint assets you owned prior to your wedding may not be part of the division of assets during your divorce.

•· A judge will base any spousal support orders on the length of your marriage, not including those years of partnership before your wedding.

•· The court may not grant custody or visitation rights to a non-biological parent who did not legally adopt the child.

Many same-sex couples who are ending their marriages find that alternative dispute resolution is a more effective way to deal with these and other unique issues. By using mediation or collaborative law, you and your former spouse may be able to settle the issues divorce laws cannot address. You may also find that alternative dispute resolution reduces the conflict and allows you to move forward sooner with far less expense than a litigated divorce.

To ensure the full protection of your rights, you would be wise to seek the counsel of an attorney who understands the unique aspects of same-sex divorce. You will also want an advocate who has experience in alternative dispute resolution but is skilled to take your case to trial if necessary.

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