Supreme Court Decision’s Effect on Same-Sex Divorce

By Tracy Fischer

The new Supreme Court ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between only a man and a woman, has surprising ramifications not only for marriage but also for divorce.  Until now, in Massachusetts a same-sex marriage that led to a divorce had several complicating factors.

Often same-sex couples choose mediation as a way to end their marriage in an amicable and cost effective manner,  just as opposite-sex couples have for many years.  While many of the same issues arise in a same-sex divorce, the opportunities to divide property and deal with tax issues are very different.  Here are just a few examples.

Currently, in a same-sex divorce, a pension that one spouse may have earned during the marriage could not be divided through a Qualified Domestic Relations Order.  This Order divides pensions and retirement accounts at the time of divorce without any tax payments or penalties and insures that the non-owning spouse, or alternate payee, would have their rightful share of the pension at the time of retirement.  Divorcing same-sex couples were forced to use other assets to effectuate an equitable division of the marital assets, many times in ways that were not in either parties’ financial interest.