Stover: Welcome to the Complications of Gay Marriage

rainbow_skittlesWell, you said you wanted it, you fought for it, and now you’ve got it, what you called “marriage equality,” the right to marry someone of the same sex. Most of us didn’t want it; we define marriage as between a man and a woman, period. Anyway, gay marriage is now legal in America, so you now have the same complications as your heterosexual friends, and then some.

The best advice before you marry: see a lawyer.

One unexpected complication gay couples can experience is the pressure to marry. Some heterosexual men wish they had the excuse of it being illegal for them to get married. Before a friend and his live-in girlfriend stopped by, my wife reminded me, “Don’t mention marriage in any way. It’ll just lead to a massive argument later.” I didn’t say a word about marriage when they visited.

We’ll never know how many same-sex couples have had massive arguments after the Supreme Court endorsed gay marriage, but they’ve lost their major excuse to avoid the legal complications of marriage. And there are complications.

Now that you can marry, you can also divorce. You know, divorce, that complicated emotional and legal breakup that heterosexual couples have undergone for thousands of years and made lots of divorce lawyers wealthy. You’ll have those complications and more as states work out how divorce laws apply to same-sex marriages.

Love and Pride, a gay website, notes “Gay couples began seeking gay divorce around seven months after same sex marriages were legalized in Massachusetts…The state’s largest county, Middlesex County, had its first gay divorce three months into the legalization, involving a 38-year-old and a 27-year-old…gay and lesbian couples were divorcing just months after they married — or less.” One of Canada’s first gay couples to marry had been together five years, but separated five days after the wedding.

Alimony is one of the most contentious issues in many divorces. On its website, Wallin & Klarich, a respected California law firm, explains “Regardless of the length of your marriage, spousal support will be an issue in any divorce or legal separation. Moreover, temporary spousal support will be an issue if one spouse has a need for support from the other spouse in order to pay their monthly expenses and continue to maintain the standard of living he or she had during the marriage.”

There are many factors involved with alimony, some depending on the length of the marriage. A spouse who’s been in a marriage two years may not get the same alimony as someone married forty years. You may have been together for a long time, but the law may not be as generous as you’d like. It depends on the law in your state, the judge, and how good a lawyer you have. So, if you’ve been the stay-at-home half of the couple or have a much lower income than the other, you could get less than you’d like in a divorce. Again, don’t hesitate to hire a good (probably means expensive, but worth it) lawyer.

Property division is another issue. The popular website, DivorceSupport.com explains property settlement in a divorce. ‘‘‘Property settlement’ is the term people use to describe the parties’ agreed-to division and distribution of the property and possessions that they obtained during a marriage. This often includes the following, but is not limited to bank account, debts, the marital home, real estate, pensions, stock options, businesses, copyrights, trademarks, autos, boats, vacation homes/timeshare, jewelry, antiques, art, washer, dryer, refrigerator, stereo, furniture, and other substantial property that was acquired during the marriage. (Whew!) Property of all kinds, including house and car (and even pets and toasters), have caused nasty fights among some divorcing couples. So, if you have some retirement benefits built up or a 401 (k) or IRA, or if you own property, they could be at risk in a divorce.

Same-sex couples can’t produce children together. Sorry, it’s biological. Children come into a same-sex marriage in a number of ways, some similar to the ways they do with heterosexual couples.

Children of your spouse from a previous relationship may come to live with you two. You might develop a close relationship with these children. If you divorce, you could be denied visitation rights. If the child is yours, you have to decide if you want your spouse to legally adopt your child. You can also adopt a child together. You then have issues of child custody, visitation, and support if you divorce.

For lesbians, one of you could become pregnant through artificial insemination. The other spouse may or may not have full rights as a parent in a divorce, including child support and custody issues. Thinking of asking a male friend to volunteer to do the job to save money? The complications multiply. Marcus Ball of MyCounsel.com, notes, “Once the biological father has validly waived his rights, any child born of artificial insemination almost always will be legally regarded as the mother’s.” Don’t think you can put your partner’s name in the space for father on the birth certificate. “It’s not legal unless a court does it,” he advises. He goes on, “There have been several cases in the United States involving couples who engaged in some type of informal semen donation. On a few occasions a child was produced, the biological father later tried to claim legal rights over the child. A number of courts have ruled that the father had a right to be the legal father unless the sperm was donated under a written agreement in which the father clearly waived his rights over the child.”

Couples can hire a surrogate mother, which can also involve legal problems. And it’s expensive. WebMD estimates the costs as $80,000-120,000. If you pick a friend, it could cost less, but face problems and legal complications.

The bottom line, the same advice given to your heterosexual friends: don’t get married until you’re as sure as you can be that you’re marrying the right person. And make sure you have a good lawyer, just in case.

Remember, you asked for it. We didn’t.

February 6, 2016

Allan C. Stover is author of Underage and Under Fire; Accounts of the Youngest Americans in Military Service (McFarland Publishing, 2014). His website is www.AllanCstover.com.

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