After a remarkable about-turn in the New Jersey Senate last week (in which a bill approving gay marriage was passed by a majority vote), both sides of the political spectrum have begun to weigh in on the legislation and its possible repercussions.
Steve Sweeney, the current State Senate President, was recently interviewed regarding the now-present issue of gay divorce. I feel this is a topic largely overlooked by the public as so much of the turmoil surrounding this issue revolves around whether or not gay marriage should be ratified in the first place. But if the legislation passes and a gay couple gets married–then runs into problems that can’t be solved by counseling or a romantic vacation to the Legoland Florida Waterpark, what then? Moreover, if the couple has adopted or had a child, how will courts (who are notorious for tending to grant custody to the mother) deal with the possible issue of having two mothers?
The same way they always have, says Sweeney. In the interview, he points out that courts take every divorce proceeding on a case-by-case basis, which is precisely what they will do in the case of gay divorce. He also goes on to point out that this is a very real probability for many gay couples, as (according to his statistics), roughly 67% of marriages end in divorce (though Politifact N.J. points out that the actual number is probably closer to 40 or 50%.
This got me thinking. Since most states don’t actually recognize gay marriage as a legal union, what happens when a couple wants to divorce? According to an article from NPR many gay couples find themselves a quandary when it comes to divorce–unless their home state recognizes gay marriage it’s impossible for them to legally separate. And if they want to get a divorce in a state such as Massachusetts, which does recognize gay marriage, they’d have to be residents of the state for at least one year prior to filing for a divorce. This seems like an extremely long time to be legally bound to someone when all you want is to be able to move on.
The article goes on to state that without a concrete gay-friendly family court system set up in most states, custody battles and the division of assets can be next to impossible for many gay couples looking to divorce. So perhaps there’s a question that courts should be asking themselves as many look forward to passing gay marriage or civil union laws. A question at least as important as whether or not to legalize gay marriage: how exactly do you deal with the complex legal issues that can result after a couple says “I do”?
Got any thoughts? Let me know in the comments section below.