Barbara J. Katzenberg, Attorney at Law
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Lack of data limits understanding of same-sex divorce

As more and more Americans accept the rights of gay men and lesbians to live their lives openly, more states are allowing same-sex marriage. Along with that institution come a full range of rights and responsibilities -- and sometimes the same ending. In fact, same sex divorce is becoming an issue for more states.

Researchers would like to know whether there are marital issues that are specific to gay and lesbian couples, but they are finding that data is hard to find for such basic facts as the numbers of same-sex couples who end marriages, reasons for those breakups, effects on spousal support and resolution of child-custody disputes.

Gathering such data will be difficult for some time ahead because other issues associated with same-sex divorce will require some resolution first.

A look at a U.S. map shows the complexity of the problem. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia allow either gay marriage or some form of civil union that offers legal rights beyond those of mere cohabitation.

But what happens when a gay or lesbian couple splits and one partner moves to a different state that does not recognize gay marriage or civil unions?

The recency of this civil rights issue also limits data gathering. Some states do not have up-to-date dissolution forms that include or reference same-sex couples. Some states do not enforce other states' court orders for spousal support, child support and child custody. Some do not recognize legal separation for gay and lesbian couples.

Just like heterosexual divorce, same-sex divorce has complex legal issues that require resolution for both parties: property division, alimony or spousal support and child custody if children are involved. With this in mind, divorcing couples should seek the best possible resolution of their case with the help of an experienced attorney.

Source: Wall Street Journal, "For Gays, Breaking Up Is Hard to Do-or Measure," Carl Bialik, May 3, 2013

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