Same-sex marriage has been legal in the U.S. for five years (seven in New Jersey), but many states still have laws on the books that oppose it. That resistance signifies that some people view LGBT marriage as somehow different than heterosexual marriage. Is it?
Is LGBT divorce different? In some ways, divorce is the same no matter who is splitting up. In other ways, LGBT divorce may involve unique challenges.
Not surprisingly, gay couples tend to marry for the many of the same reasons straight couples do, namely love and companionship. There are some differences: compared to heterosexual couples, LGBT couples are more likely to think of legal rights when marrying, and less likely to name children as a reason to marry.
Same-sex couples typically ignore society’s notions of gender roles. Once married, this may lead to more egalitarian partnerships than heterosexual couples tend to experience. In other ways, LGBT marriages are no different than other marriages. Spouses express the same level of commitment and experience the same difficulties. Couples across the board are likely to meet with the same successes and challenges in parenthood.
While all divorcing couples face conflict and heartache, LBGT couples may deal with unique additional hurdles. In matters where length of the marriage is a factor, courts may treat LGBT couples differently than they would other couples. Suppose a same-sex couple joined in a civil union in 2010, but did not marry until 2015. Will courts consider assets acquired in 2012 marital property? Will a judge award spousal support as if the marriage lasted 10 years or just five?
Some of the most complicated rulings involve child custody issues. Suppose the couple in the example above adopted children in 2012 in a state that did not allow both members to become legal guardians. In that case, there may be only one legal parent. Both parents likely shared parenting responsibilities equally over the years. Still, courts may rule that only the official adoptive parent has legal rights regarding the children.