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The only state that allows same-sex marriage is Massachusetts, but many other states that legally recognize same-sex unions are now requiring gay and lesbian couples to go through formal divorce proceedings as well.
As a result, many same-sex couples who have decided to dissolve their relationship are finding themselves caught up in a legal mess. So are many divorce attorneys.
Attorney Deborah Wald said that many divorce lawyers “are worried that they don’t know the answers to a lot of questions, and people are making decisions on what their lawyer tells them to do. There can be liability on the lawyers’ side if they make their best intelligent guess that happens to be wrong.”
Issues that are particularly baffling with regard to same-sex divorce involve tax laws and child custody. For instance, federal tax laws don’t take into consideration same-sex marriage and thus conflict with certain states’ tax laws. But tax laws affect alimony judgments.
Similarly, with regard to child custody, many states do not recognize as parents two mothers or two fathers. In fact, a landmark child custody case involving a lesbian couple, one of whom is the biological mother, may have to be settled by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Courts are going to be facing cases involving same-sex relationships that they haven’t faced before,” said Ellen Kahn, director of the Family Project for the Human Rights Campaign.
“This is truly a brave new world for us. Anyone who steps out first is going to create as many questions as answers,” said William Dalton, deputy secretary of state of Vermont.
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