Barbara J. Katzenberg, Attorney at Law
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Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling on civil unions

Our Massachusetts readers are no doubt aware that same-sex marriage has been legal here following a ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 2003. It seems the court is breaking ground again.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that a civil union which is allowed in other states is the legal equivalent of marriage. In simple terms, if it walks, talks and acts like a duck, it is a duck. Oddly enough the ruling on same-sex marriage came about as a result of a pending same-sex divorce.

According to news sources, two men were joined in a civil union in Vermont. One of those men then married a third man in Massachusetts in 2005. The third man filed for divorce in 2009, at which time he discovered that his husband had an undissolved civil union existing in Vermont which would make the 2005 Massachusetts marriage void.

One of the Justices wrote in the opinion about the man with both a civil union and a marriage that, "If we do not recognize [the Vermont] civil union, he would have two legal spouses, each of whom could expect virtually the same obligations from him, such as spousal or child support, inheritance, and healthcare coverage."

Today same-sex marriages are legal in Vermont although in 1999 the only option was a civil union. So it is possible for a same-sex couple to have either a Vermont civil union (joined in 1999 through 2009) or a marriage (married in 2009 through the present).

Today same-sex marriage is legal in some states and unconstitutional in others while the Defense of Marriage Act hangs in limbo. This has made the issue of same-sex marriage and divorce a difficult landscape to traverse.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Massachusetts Court: Civil Union "Equivalent" To Marriage," Stever Eder, July 26, 2012

At our Worcester law firm we represent individuals with same-sex divorce issues such as the one in this posting as well as child custody disputes and other non-marital family law matters.

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