People in same-sex relationships long looked forward to the day their marriages were treated like marriages. Finally, in 2015, the United States Supreme Court held that the right to marry is an essential part of a person’s liberty. They ruled that States must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
Various people and religious organizations refuse to recognize same-sex marriage. Both local and federal governments, however, must now treat such marriages as valid. This will result in greater certainty and stability in day to day life, and when it comes to ending those relationships and bringing them peaceful closure.
New Rights, New Legal Complexities
In California, the law provides that registered domestic partners have the same rights, protections, and benefits, and are subject to the same responsibilities, obligations, and duties under the law.
Unfortunately, integrating the prior history of discrimination into the new no discrimination legal reality is not as easy as it sounds.
When courts are making decisions about spousal support or alimony, the first question they’ll ask is about is the length of the marriage. But where the marriage was not allowed for a portion of the same-sex couple’s relationship, how will we measure its duration?
Another issue arises when it comes to determining the character of the property acquired by same-sex couples during the period of their domestic partnership but before their marriage. Is that property community or separate? Answering this question can make all the difference in the world when it comes to the couple’s entitlement to the tax-free transfer of properties between themselves.
When It Comes to Full Equality, There’s Still Work To Be Done
California’s legislature and its courts are trying to do all that is required to treat the same-sex domestic partnerships as if they were marriages. Still, there is more work to be done.
Many property rights are dependent upon federal law, which is unlikely to recognize California’s domestic partnership rights. Examples are federal retirement rights such as USFSPA and ERISA. It is doubtful that California courts will be able to order these assets directly divided as they can with marital interests.
Thankfully, just as with divorces between opposite-sex spouses, same-sex spouses can work with a mediator and create a divorce agreement that works for their families. It can help them to avoid court, lawyers, frustrations, and above all, unfairness.
Stay tuned for legal updates on this evolving issue.