Berman & Asbel, LLP

Same-sex couples and divorce: Dealing with legal stereotypes

As the legal system of the United States deals with legalities involving same-sex marriage, the media has been giving the issue much attention. As the country seems to be moving toward more legal acceptance of same-sex marriage, it can be assumed that issues of same-sex couples and divorce will be surfacing in higher numbers. As many Pennsylvania residents know, though marriage equality is the goal of many, divorce issues for same-sex couples could mean determining new procedures.

Many of the rules and regulations in divorce proceedings involving opposite-sex couples are in place to ensure that one party -- usually that of the wife -- does not face a significant disadvantage in areas such as property division or alimony. These proceedings stem from the typical idea that a wife is more likely to stay home with children and possibly not have much income at her disposal. As same-sex couples do not follow the typical husband-wife model, the question arises of how these regulations will be applied to them. Some male couples prefer not to indulge in equitable division of assets while some female couples might find an advantage in such a procedure. A judge's policy is characteristically to not allow one party to be more taken advantage of, but in a society of stereotypes where the wife is often seen as 'weaker,' this strategy can prove more difficult to carry out when same-sex couples are involved.

As can often be seen with same-sex couples, typical gender roles are not carried out. One partner may not do all of the stereotypically feminine duties while the other carries out stereotypically masculine duties; the obligations and priorities are taken care of by each party. While the legal system has policies and usual procedures, it may soon need to implement new strategies that create non-gendered standards that will be helpful in determining which party could be at a disadvantage during a divorce.

Same-sex couples and divorce is still a relatively new legal sector to navigate, so it is important to have information on Pennsylvania laws that would be helpful in determining the best routes to take when contemplating divorce. The process can become complicated, and being prepared can help lessen the stress. Discussing options for all parties involved could be the first step for same-sex couples wishing to divorce.

Source: The Nation, "Lesbian Husbands and Gay Wives: The Gendering of Gay Divorce," Katherine Franke, July 3, 2013

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