In 2011, New York became the sixth state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage with the 2011 Marriage Equity Act. This groundbreaking legislation extended specific rights and privileges to same-sex couples entering legally binding unions. It also allowed same-sex couples to resolve marital issues in the same manner as opposite-sex couples through divorce.
Although New York family laws seem gender-neutral, specific factors not always present in opposite-sex marriages can challenge same-sex couples.
At The Mandel Law Firm, we want to explain why marriage length considerations may put some same-sex couples at a disadvantage when filing for divorce.
What Is Marriage Length Consideration?
Divorce can be a complicated process. Turmoil often comes from the division of marital property and assets and the potential obligations of alimony and child support. When couples disagree on the terms of their divorce, property division is typically one of the top concerns.
New York courts must divide marital property “equitably.” Equitable does not necessarily mean an equal 50-50 split. It means that assets and debts must be divided fairly between spouses, considering the case’s circumstances and the parties involved. New York courts typically examine specific factors when determining how to divide marital property during a divorce fairly. These factors include:
- Income of each spouse
- Length of the marriage
- Health and age of each spouse
- Whether minor children are involved and which parent has custody
- Loss of inheritance or pension rights
- Loss of health insurance or other benefits
- Probable future financial circumstances of each spouse
- Tax consequences to each spouse
- Either spouse’s contributions as a homemaker or primary caregiver
Notice that length of the marriage is one of the factors that can play a role in how New York courts assess and divide marital property during a divorce. The longer a couple has been married, the more marital property is typically acquired, and the more each spouse tends to contribute to the household. In long-term marriages that end in divorce, one spouse may receive more financial support due to the length of time the couple spent together.
How Marriage Length May Impact Same-Sex Couples
Opposite-sex couples have always had the right to marry and the right to divorce. There has never been a barrier to legally committing to one person. However, that is not true in the case of same-sex couples. Same-sex couples have only recently been granted the same legal right to wed that opposite-sex couples have always had. So, what does this mean for divorce and marriage length consideration?
Before 2011 in New York, same-sex couples who wanted to commit to one another had to do so “unofficially.” That may have meant living together, sharing financial obligations, purchasing a home together, having children together, or merging financial assets without the protection offered by standard marriage contracts. Although these unions may have been equivalent to marriage in the eyes of the couple and their families, the law does not consider these relationships to be the same as legal marriage.
Why does this matter? Although same-sex couples may have earned and collected assets during their years together before 2011, these assets cannot be considered marital property subject to equitable division. Each partner’s contribution to the career of the other or to the support of the family prior to the legal marriage doesn’t count. Instead, only property and debts obtained and each partner’s contribution to their union during a same-sex couple’s legal marriage are subject to division and consideration during divorce. That puts same-sex couples at a disadvantage through no fault of their own.
Contact a Knowledgeable Family Law Attorney Now
Are you worried about how divorce may impact you? At The Mandel Law Firm, we understand the unique challenges many same-sex couples face when navigating the New York legal system. To protect your rights and get what you deserve from your divorce, contact our New York office or call us at (646) 770-3868 to arrange for a confidential consultation.