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Minnesota's same-sex divorce laws still have uncertainties

The first legally recognized same-sex marriages in Minnesota took place on August 1, and dozens of couples jumped at the opportunity. Amid these celebrations, it would be understandable if nobody wanted to talk about the related issue of same-sex divorce.

Nonetheless, it is important to remember that marriage rights include divorce rights. In fact, in Rhode Island, which also began recognizing same-sex marriages on August 1, at least one resident filed for dissolution of her same-sex marriage on the first day she was able to do so.

Ordinarily, married people are able to file for divorce in the state where they live. However, because not all states recognize same-sex marriage, people who were married in one state and then later moved to a state that does not recognize their marriage have had to travel to another state if they want to get divorced. Now that Minnesota recognizes same-sex marriages, Minnesota residents who wish to dissolve a same-sex marriage do not have to leave the state.

There are, however, other remaining burdens on same-sex divorces. According to some observers, same-sex divorces can cost as much as double those for heterosexual couples. One reason for this is that the legal system has not fully caught up with the practice of same-sex divorce, and it simply takes more time for courts to work through the details.

Another reason concerns property division. Property division is the process during which couples divide their personal assets from their marital property and then divide the marital property in a way that meets Minnesota's standards of fairness. This is always a time-consuming process, especially in the case of high net worth divorce. For couples who own businesses, second homes, large investment portfolios or other complex assets, it can be technically challenging to split up the property.

It can be even more challenging for couples who were together for a long time before they were legally allowed to marry. Minnesota's standards for dividing marital property are based upon the date when the couple were wed, but in some cases it may be more fair to set the date at some earlier point, especially if the couple was not allowed to legally marry for years before the law changed.

Minnesota's new law certainly comes as a relief and a joy for many same-sex couples, whether they are hoping to get married or divorced. However, for those who want to get divorced, there is still a lot of work to do before full equality is reached.


Source: Forbes, "What The End Of DOMA Means (And Doesn't Mean) For Divorcing Same-Sex Couples," Jeff Landers, August 1, 2013

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