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Federal law versus state law in same-sex divorces

The number of states where same-sex marriage is legal continues to grow. As more same-sex couples marry and have children in these states, the number of same-sex divorces will likely also increase. According to one report, a national committee is working to find solutions for legal issues which arise as a result of differences in federal and state same-sex marriage laws.

Two members of this committee explain that the federal Defense of Marriage Act makes it challenging for same-sex couples to resolve legal issues if they marry in one state and then move to a state where same-sex marriage is not recognized. For instance, say a couple legally marries in Massachusetts and then moves to Michigan or any other state that does not recognize same-sex marriage. This couple could encounter difficulties if they seek a divorce or need to resolve other legal issues.

Couples who marry in Massachusetts may want to look into what legal protections would disappear if they moved to a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage. Doing so in advance of a move could help couples determine what additional legal arrangements should be made. For instance, in states where same-sex marriage is not recognized, one's same-sex spouse can be denied hospital visitation rights.

Even couples who marry in Massachusetts and continue living in a state where same-sex marriage is recognized could encounter difficulties during a divorce. Since federal law does not recognize same-sex marriage, things like taxes and pensions could be challenging to resolve for some people. Seeking guidance from a legal professional knowledgeable about legal issues concerning same-sex couples may eliminate some stresses during this challenging time for couples.

Source: MLive.com, "Grand Rapids lawyers head national committee aimed at establishing gay marriage rights," Jim Harger, Nov. 12, 2012

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