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Federal laws may affect Massachusetts same-sex divorces

In 2004, Massachusetts led the way in recognizing same-sex marriage equality. The issue has been in the news recently as other states have passed and considered similar laws. But couples in our state may not be aware of the complicating effect that certain laws may have on various aspects of their relationship, including divorce.

One same-sex couple in another state had been married for nearly a decade and had two children together. But when they wanted to divorce, they found that the spousal and child support obligations in their case were different because of a federal law. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), passed under the Clinton Administration, can affect couples' federal income tax deductions in divorce proceedings. The judge in the couple's case mistakenly used the state support guidelines for divorces between heterosexual spouses. The error was later caught.

The issue is that DOMA does not provide same-sex couples the same federal income tax deductions that are afforded to heterosexual couples. In a divorce between a man and a woman, spousal and child support amounts will generally be higher because they can offset those costs with the beneficial income tax deductions. Same-sex couples, who cannot take the deductions, will typically pay less in support, depending on the state.

While divorce is a state matter, federal laws like DOMA can have a bearing on the proceedings. Some advise that same-sex couples who are considering a divorce do so with as little animosity as possible. In addition, experienced family law attorneys can help same-sex couples navigate the array of laws that could affect their divorce case.

Source: The Bay Area Reporter, "DOMA complicates gay divorces," Matthew S. Bajko, Feb. 16, 2012.

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