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Recognition of Same-Sex Divorce a Growing Issue in Many States

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In an article in the New York Times, Marcelle S. Fischler examines a growing problem in the field of divorce. We're introduced to C.C. and C.M., two women who married in Massachusetts in 2005. The couple lives in New York. A year following their marriage, C.M. gave birth to a daughter, and C.C. adopted the child.

As in many marriages, tensions soon followed, some health-related, some financial in nature and others, more unique to the situation: the "stress of a same sex marriage." By 2005, C.C. had moved out.

The couple sought legal advice as they worked to determine child custody of their daughter, child support and alimony. The state of New York does not allow same-sex marriages, but the governor has issued an order requiring state agencies to recognize marriages performed in other states.

In October of 2008, a New York State Supreme Court Justice, Rosalyn H. Richter, granted the couple a divorce. Their case was the first such dissolution of a same-sex marriage in New York. Another case is currently moving forward, this one involving the recognition of a marriage that occurred in Canada. More are on the way.

Current New York state residency requirements for divorce require a couple to live in the state for six months if the marriage was performed out of state.

C.M. points out the couples' very mixed feelings about not being able to marry in their home state, but being able to divorce there. Nancy Chemtob, the attorney who represented C.M., says the divorce was similar to the heterosexual version, with the usual disputes over school choice and child visitation.

States are struggling over this issue: How to treat divorcing couples whose marriages they may not recognize.

A judge in New Jersey recently ruled that same-sex marriages performed outside the state are recognized only in the case of divorce. In other states, including Rhode Island, Oklahoma, and Texas, have refused to grant divorce. The situation is likely to only grow more complex.

The California Supreme Court recently upheld the state’s ban on gay marriage, while ruling the 18,000 marriages in existence still stand. More states are also legalizing gay marriage, which will inevitably lead to more cases of same-sex divorce for courts across the country to manage. Vermont is scheduled to begin allowing same-sex marriages when a new law goes into effect on Sept. 1.

David Greenan, a psychologist and family therapist who also teaches at the Teachers College at Columbia, says that the formalized divorce process can benefit a couple psychologically, as it's a ritual that helps the parties to separate and disengage. Greenan also feels that states that allow the divorce of same-sex marriages but not the unions themselves send a "negative, destabilizing message" to same-sex couples.

C.C., who has joint child custody of her daughter, says considering the possibility of divorce is as important to couples as it is to states.

"It’s just like every other relationship," she says. "We are not in fairytale land. It’s real. Sometimes it doesn’t work out."

Source: The New York Times


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