Well before the same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide by the Supreme Court in 2015, in 2013 then Governor Mark Dayton made same-sex marriages legal in our state. Since August 1, 2013, the LGBTQ community in Minnesota has enjoyed the same familial rights as their heterosexual counterparts. And, as these laws gave same-sex couples the right to marry, it also gave them the right to divorce. However, because of how recent these laws are, a key difference in the divorce process is how family law courts determine the length of a same-sex marriage.
Why is the length of a marriage so important? Our state uses equitable distribution to divide marital property and debts, which requires family court judges to divide these items fairly, not equally. Accordingly, this time is so important because it helps determine how property, assets, and debts can be divided fairly. After all, if the couple incurred debts or acquired property and assets prior to their legal marriage, they should also be part of the divorce process.
If the family law courts did not look at this, the divorce disparities could be significant. For example, if one spouse gave up their career prior to their legal marriage to help the other spouse accomplish their career goals, this should be factored in. Similarly, significant asset accumulation prior to the couple’s legal assets should be treated as marital property. Understanding this time is the only way to ensure fairness in the divorce process.
While Minnesota same-sex couples had two-years of additional legal marriage, these couples could have lived together as, essentially, a married couple for years prior to their marriage becoming legal. This is why family court judges will look to the time spent living together, not just the length of time the same-sex couple was “legally married.”
These unique issues and challenges lead to additional legal challenges, in addition to the emotional issues fraught in family law legal disputes. This is why it is so essential to hire an attorney that understands these nuances.