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Divorcing same-sex couples in Washington face certain pitfalls

Washington state legalized same sex marriage in 2012. Despite their newfound freedom to marry, the state's same-sex partners are no more immune to relationship troubles than heterosexual couples and as likely to end up in divorce. Because divorce is still a relatively new occurrence for same-sex couples, however, they may be prone to certain problems that can make the divorce process more difficult and have negative long-term consequences.

One problem is that the assets and properties of both partners are legally joined under the law. Same-sex couples who have been sharing a household for a long time before marriage often have trouble with property division when it comes to divorce. There frequently is no clear delineation of which assets and properties are marital or individual. Now, as with heterosexual couples before marriage, a prenuptial agreement can sort things out. A postnuptial agreement also can be effective.

Child custody can also present problems. Same-sex couples have several options if they want to have children, including adoption and using a surrogate mother and sperm donation. The trouble with these options is that when certain legal realities are not addressed, a nasty custody dispute could ensue during divorce. The best course of action is for the nonbiological parent to legally adopt the child. Legal papers should also be drawn up if one partner has children from a previous relationship.

Finally, same-sex couples in Washington should avoid consulting with family law professionals who work primarily with traditional heterosexual divorces. Same-sex marriages present more complex problems than traditional marriages because they often begin from domestic partnerships or unions originally recognized in another state. It is important to be guided by a family law professional who knows the legal nuances of same-sex marriage and divorce laws and issues in Washington and is knowledgeable about financial matters.

Source: CNBC, "Gay couples find divorcing has traps," Judith Messina, Accessed on Nov. 27, 2014

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