U.S. Supreme Court Recognizes the Legal Right to Marriage for Same Sex Couples

Two silver rings resting on a background in colors of a homosexual flag

On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the United States Constitution guarantees a right to same sex marriage. All states are now required to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state. Now, two consenting adults can be legally married in the state of Wisconsin, and can expect that Wisconsin, and all states, will recognize that marriage as legal.

It also follows that, any married couple should expect the same legal process of divorce in Wisconsin. However, how these laws apply to same sex marriages remains unsettled. For example, one glaring issue is determining the length of the marriage for purposes of maintenance, or alimony. Maintenance is linked to the length of marriage, so how will the courts determine when the marriage started? Will the court use the date of the couple’s actual marriage, or the date in which Wisconsin recognized the legality of their marriage?  It also remains unsettled as to whether children born to same sex married couples will be ‘presumed’ by the State of Wisconsin to be children of both parties.

While the legal system determines these legal nuances, the fact remains that we can move forward from categorizing or defining marriages or divorces. Any individual who is seeking legal counsel for family law issues, including divorce, should feel confident that his or her attorney is prepared to guide her client through the legal process, regardless of whatever unique circumstances are involved. If you are facing this difficult situation, call us at (414) 258-1644 to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your case.

Issues Remain Unresolved Regarding Same-Sex Divorce in Wisconsin

Businessman stress, ripping up partner word on paperOne year ago this June, federal Judge Barbara Crabb overturned Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriage. Along with the advent same-sex marriage in Wisconsin came the inevitable issue of same-sex divorce in Wisconsin. However, because of the laws on divorce in Wisconsin, same-sex divorce presents some very distinct issues.

These issues are addressed in an article by Jim Stingl in the Journal Sentinel, found here: http://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/one-year-later-gay-marriage-also-brings-gay-divorce-b99513974z1-306392381.html

As mentioned in this article, one question looming over same-sex divorce involves the award maintenance, or alimony, which often requires a consideration of the length of a marriage. While there were no same-sex marriages in Wisconsin until June 6, 2014 (when the ban on same-sex marriage was overturned), many other states, as well as Canada, have allowed same-sex marriage for several years. So the questions remains, when will the Court consider a marriage that occurred previous to June 6, 2014, outside the state’s jurisdiction, to have begun? On the date of their actual marriage, or on the date Wisconsin legally recognized that marriage? There certainly appears to be some confusion among judges, which would have a direct effect on a court’s ruling for maintenance.

Another important issue is the marital presumption, and whether the courts will extend the marital presumption to children of same sex couples. Currently, the law states that the husband is presumed to be the father of any child born to the wife during the marriage.  However, it is unsettled as to whether children born to same sex married couples would be ‘presumed’ by the State of Wisconsin to be children of both parties. This may also evoke similar timing questions as to when and if Wisconsin will extend this presumption to same-sex couples married outside the state’s jurisdiction.

The legal community is anticipating that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling later this month regarding whether states must allow same-sex marriage and recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdiction will provide courts with some guidance. Until then, this unique issue remains unsettled with the Wisconsin courts, and open for interpretation. Moreover, because this issues remains unsettled with the courts, it can also leave divorces finalized during this time vulnerable to post-judgment litigation in the future.

These issues regarding custody, placement and support of children, maintenance, and property division, should be at the forefront of any divorce discussion. Any individual seeking a divorce should choose an attorney who understands the unique issues involving same-sex marriage and divorce, and who is prepared to guide her client through the divorce process. If you are facing this difficult situation, call us at (414) 258-1644 to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your case.

Same-Sex Divorce: Layered with Issues

close up of happy male gay couple holding handsSame sex couples have only recently, and only in some states, been given the right to marry.  With the right to marry, unfortunately, often comes the right to divorce.   For those attorneys and parties who have tried to navigate same-sex divorces, many issues arise which include issues not always seen in heterosexual divorces.

The first issue that might arise in a same-sex divorce is: What is the date of marriage?  Since states have granted the right for same-sex couples to marry on different dates, some states might disagree on the determination of a couple’s actual date of marriage depending on where the couple was married.  This issue might also arise if a couple is residing in a state that recognizes common law marriage (note: Wisconsin does not recognize common law marriage).  The date of marriage (i.e. length of marriage) is important when addressing issues regarding support.

On this topic, many same-sex couples are together for years before they were able to get legally married.  These couples considered themselves “married” long before they were legally married, which included  commingling their assets.  Regardless, there is a question as to whether or not such couples should get “credit” for the time spend together in a marriage-like relationship before legally married.  Most courts will only divide assets starting from the time a couple actually got married.  This can create a lot of inequality and unanswered issues for these couples.

A related issue is also whether or not a couple even has a valid marriage and if a court can even grant a Judgment of Divorce.  Since some same-sex couples traveled outside of their home state or U.S. to be married, their marriage may not be valid.  In this case, a Judgment of Divorce might not be appropriate.

If children are involved, a same-sex divorce can becomes even more complicated depending on when the children were born.  Children born during a marriage are considered marital children.  In many same-sex marriages, you might have children born prior to a legal marriage who are considered by their parents to be ‘marital children,’ but not in the eyes of Wisconsin law.  For same-sex couples whose children were not born during a legal marriage, either one or both of the parents are not the biological parent of the child.  This presents several questions for the court.  For example, if the child is not biological, have both of the parents legally adopted the child?   If only one parent is biological, does that parent have all the rights?  These questions are perplexing to the court, to the parents and to the children.

Same-sex couples are also running into issues when they try to get divorced in states other than the state where they were legally married.  States that do not recognize same-sex marriages typically will not grant a same-sex divorce, as the state views the marriage as unlawful from the start.  Therefore, the same-sex couple, or at least one of the spouses, must return to the state where they got married.  Many states, like Wisconsin, require at least a six-month minimum residency requirement for anyone who wants to petition for divorce, so this creates more delay and financial burdens for these couples.

Clearly, same-sex divorce is not a well-defined area of law.  This means that the courts, court officials and attorneys are lacking clear answers on what courts are required to do, or should consider, when making divorce related decisions for these couples.  Therefore, many courts are requiring attorneys to do additional research and file briefs to point the court in the right direction.  Since there is additional work that is often required, not only are delays very common, but same-sex couples might pay more in attorney fees to be divorced.

More issues than the above may arise during a same-sex divorce proceeding, and it is important that you choose an attorney who is willing and able to navigate you through this relatively new and developing area of family law.   If you facing this difficult situation, call us at 414-258-1644 to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your case.