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Rhode Island Supreme Court Will Hear Divorce Case of Gay Couple Married in Massachusetts


May 25, 2007 — In what's believed to be the state's first same-sex divorce case, the Rhode Island Supreme Court agreed on May 21st to hear a case involving a couple who was married in Massachusetts and now wants to get divorced in Little Rhody.

An Associated Press story detailed that Cassandra Ormiston and Margaret Chambers married in Massachusetts in 2005 shortly after the state made gay marriages legal. The couple currently lives in Rhode Island and has cited irreconcilable differences as the grounds for their divorce claim.

This same-sex marriage divorce case was first sent to Chief Family Court Judge Jeremiah S. Jeremiah Jr., who was unsure whether he could handle a divorce petition for a same-sex marriage from another state. Since Rhode Island law is silent on the issue of same-sex marriages, Jeremiah asked the state Supreme Court in December whether he had jurisdiction to handle this gay divorce case.

The Rhode Island Supreme Court initially requested more information about the marriage, including whether there was a valid marriage license, where the couple lived when it was issued, and whether the plaintiff Chambers had lived in the state long enough time to even file for divorce in Rhode Island.

After receiving this information and finding satisfactory answers to these questions, the Rhode Island accepted the divorce case and will decide whether the Family Court can handle such a divorce petition.

The ramifications of this decision loom large for not only Ormiston and Chambers but other gay married couples living in the state who may seek a divorce in the future. The story indicated that if the Rhode Island Supreme Court decides that the Family Court can handle such a divorce petition, then the case will likely be sent back to Jeremiah.

However, if the state Supreme Court goes the other way, divorce lawyers in the story said that the couple will most likely not be able to get a Rhode Island divorce. In fact, these divorce lawyers indicated that the couple may have to move back to Massachusetts and establish residence there for a long enough time in order to file for divorce in that state.

The divorce lawyers of both women described such a scenario as being undesirable and financially impossible. Nancy Palmisciano is Ormiston's Rhode Island divorce attorney and said in the story that her client's entire life would be "screwed up" if she had to move back to Massachusetts.

A court date has not yet been set for this same-sex Rhode Island divorce case. The state Supreme Court will now accept briefs on and before August 1st and has even invited Rhode Island Governor Donald L. Carcieri, Attorney General Patrick Lynch and other state legislators to file briefs. Lynch has written a legal opinion that the state should recognize same-sex marriages from other states for the purpose of handling Rhode Island divorce petitions.

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