Divorce is hard enough for every couple. Knowing what’s the same for gay and lesbian couples, and what is different is a key to a good resolution.
The good news– the answers are knowable, and as in most areas, knowledge is power and promotes positive outcomes for all involved. Collaborative Practice (CP) and other consensual resolution processes like mediation allow both spouses in a divorce to work together to maximize a positive outcome for each of their futures, and for any family members affected. Let me explain how.
Here are 5 ways divorce is different for gay and lesbian couples:
1. Does your relationship have legal recognition?
Are you married? If so the answer is obviously yes. If not, but you are “domestic partnership (DP)”, the answer is maybe. It depends on what kind of DP you have or are. Domestic partnerships can be state, or city or county, or from other states, or civil unions, or even just registering with your employer for e.g. health insurance.
Some simple answers: IF you have a domestic partnership registered with the state of California, what we call an “RDP”, you are married for all California state purposes including ALL divorce process. Some steps like “Summary Dissolution” may have different names and processes, but substantively all the same.
In California if you are not an RDP, other domestic partnerships from cities, counties or employers are NOT marriage equivalents and will NOT require the same steps to end.
2. You may not even remember. How can you find out?
The first step is to contact the Ca. Secretary of State’s website and follow their procedures to have them search and provide evidence of your DP.
3. What if you have more than one registrations as a DP, or have an out of state equivalent DP, Civil Union, etc.?
For these instances, you will need legal assistance, and your local county courthouse free self help center may NOT be prepared to advise you on these situations which are not their typical client questions. Then you and your spouse may need to contact legal help, and doing so in CP or to a neutral lawyer, may have numerous advantages as you go forward.
4. When do you want, and when does your spouse want, to say that your relationship began?
We’ve been fighting for “marriage equality” for same gender relationships for MANY years. (Personally, I am a 30 + year volunteer for Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.) Because marriage was not yet legal for us, gay and lesbian couples may not have been able to get married at a time when similar straight couples may have gotten married, and may not have chosen to become RDP’s until full marriage equality was reached in 2013 (US Supreme Court decision) . According to the current law, however, if you and your spouse agree, you can choose for many purposes, even in divorce, when we want our legal recognition of our relationships to have started. Agreement is promoted through consensual processes such as CP if appropriate for your case.
5. If you have children, who is recognized as a legal parent?
Are there people parenting your children who do not have legal parent status? Are there more than 2 people your children would consider parents? Guess what, gay and lesbian parents can even confirm legal parentage as part of your divorce. A consensual dispute resolution process like CP will help you make the best decisions for young people dependent on you.
6. Other questions include:
Will the tax laws treat gay and lesbian couples differently? Federal taxation of divorce IS different for same gender couples who are only RDP’s rather than married, where as state tax law is the same for married or RDP couples. Will the courts treat you as a legally recognizable couple the same as a straight couple?
These and other questions are good reasons for a same gender couple to use consensual dispute resolution processes such as Collaborative Practice (CP) or Mediation to end their legally recognized relationships in the most respectful and beneficial way for them and all others affected. Divorce is hard for everyone, and has additional questions and hurdles for LGBT couples, but your choice of process can help. I and others proficient with LGBT couples, stand ready to help you end your legal relationship this way.