Same Sex Marriage & Divorce

As most if not all of the population of the United States is aware, the landmark June 26, 2015 US Supreme Court decision in, Obergefell v. Hodges, legalized same sex marriage. The court held that, The Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State.

Shortly after the Supreme Court’s landmark marriage equality ruling, Anna Wellman and Stephanie Baus filed for divorce in the Orleans Parish Civil District Court in Louisiana after waiting for the opportunity for five years. The Times-Picayune reported that, “the couple quickly finalized their divorce before the city’s first same sex couple weed a few hours later.”

Wellman and Baus were married in 2009 in Massachusetts, where same sex marriage was legal since 2004. The couple couldn’t divorce when they separated five years ago because Louisiana didn’t recognize their marriage. Massachusetts doesn’t have a residency requirement to get married, but there is a residency requirement to get divorced.

States have residency requirements of a minimum of six months (Pennsylvania) to one year (New Jersey) or more in order for that state to have jurisdiction over a divorce matter. Prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling on 6/26/15, a same-sex couple seeking a divorce had the choice of moving to Massachusetts, or another state that recognized same sex marriage, for a specified period of time in order to satisfy the jurisdictional requirements for a divorce or they would remain married.

What would be the outcome if one partner passed away well after the relationship was over, and then the alternate partner moved to Massachusetts and claimed an unintended inheritance as his or her spouse?

New issues will arise since the Supreme Court’s ruling, such as how will this new divorce law determine the beginning date for marital property? Will property accumulated during a civil union or as domestic partners be included in the marital estate?

While it may appear cynical to begin watching divorce law develop so shortly after same sex marital laws have been enacted, it will be interesting to watch the laws surrounding same-sex divorces take shape.