Same-sex couples living in Pennsylvania may face unique legal challenges when forming and dissolving their relationships, especially if they have children or substantial net worth. Prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor (2013), the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and similar state laws prohibited the recognition of same-sex marriages. Pennsylvania, like most states, did not permit same-sex divorce, even if couples were legally married elsewhere. Property ownership, taxes, adoption, estate planning and other legal issues were more complicated for same-sex couples. Since United States v. Windsor, the law governing same-sex relationships in Pennsylvania has changed dramatically, and the evolution is continuing. Pollock Begg lawyers remain current with the latest developments in family law as they affect same-sex couples and their children.

What is different about same-sex divorce?

Same-sex divorce in Pennsylvania requires thoughtful planning because the laws are constantly changing and adapting. The realities of long-term same-sex relationships have not been fully explored yet by the courts. For instance, a decades-long relationship might be viewed in divorce proceedings as a short-term marriage, because the marital status has been legally recognized for only a few years. Property ownership and estate planning mechanisms which were necessary prior to marriage recognition (such as trusts and partnerships) might need to be untangled. Couples who were joined under domestic partnership laws (or civil unions) that existed in New Jersey and several West Coast states present their own challenges.

Sooner or later, most divorces are settled out of court. Crafting an effective settlement agreement requires sensitivity to the unique issues that couples may face, including health insurance coverage, child custody and visitation, animal rights, tax issues, and care and use of embryos and frozen eggs. Some couples turn to mediation and collaborative law to ensure privacy and dignity in the process. Pollock Begg understands the issues and provides practical solutions for same-sex couples who are dissolving their relationships.

Can Pollock Begg help unmarried couples break up?

Couples who have never married may need legal help when their relationship is ready to end. Same-sex breakups can be performed in a fair and orderly fashion, often by creating a written contract similar to a marital settlement agreement. These agreements, however, must be carefully drafted to ensure they do not create unenforceable obligations or cause unexpected tax consequences. When property is divided or debts are satisfied in these settlements, the couple must consider how to characterize the property transfers. The agreement must also contain mechanisms to ensure compliance and avoid costly battles over enforcement. Pollock Begg lawyers have written same-sex breakup agreements which enabled gay and lesbian couples to end their relationships without acrimony.

Call Pollock Begg to consult with one of our family law attorneys if you need guidance in resolving a same-sex divorce or breakup.

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