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The uncertain landscape of same-sex divorce in Massachusetts

Not every marriage lasts, and as more and more same-sex couples tie the knot, we are beginning to see the emergence of a relatively new family law phenomenon: gay divorce. In states like Massachusetts, where gay marriage is recognized, divorcing same-sex couples will have to face the many issues that come with a legal separation. But because of the current status of the law, same-sex divorce is unique in a few respects that make it more difficult on the partners.

For example, property division can be tricky because gay couples do not have the same federal privileges as other married couples. Certain assets, such as 401(k) accounts, which are generally divisible in a heterosexual divorce, are not in a same-sex divorce. There are also issues such as spousal support payments and child visitation, which are generally well-settled areas of state law for heterosexual divorce but could be a quagmire for same-sex couples.

In the U.S., over 140,000 gay couples have legally recognized unions, while about 50,000 same-sex couples are now married. The divorce rate for these same-sex couples is slightly lower than that of heterosexual married couples, but for those same-sex couples that do choose to divorce, there may be unforeseen and uncertain legal consequences.

The bottom line is that each state treats unions between same-sex partners differently, and some do not recognize the institution whatsoever. There are myriad considerations divorcing same-sex couples have to wrestle with when deciding to divorce.

Massachusetts was the first state to legalize gay marriage, and one of only six states in the U.S. that recognize it at the present time. For those who seek more information on the complex consequences tied to a gay divorce, an experienced local family law attorney can help shed some light on the state of the matter in Massachusetts.

Source: The Atlantic Wire, "After Gay Marriage Comes Gay Divorce," Jen Doll, June 25, 2012.

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