The Honeymoon’s Over? First Same-Sex Divorces Arrive in Columbus
One year after SCOTUS ruling for same-sex marriage, Columbus divorce lawyers are starting to see the first same-sex divorce cases.
This year, June 26 marked the one-year anniversary of the landmark United States Supreme Court’s decision to legalize marriage for same-sex couples in Obergefell v. Hodges. Now, for some of those couples, the honeymoon might be over, as they become some of the first same-sex divorce cases in Ohio.
“The Supreme Court decision means that same-sex divorce is really the same as any divorce case,” says Gus Dahlberg, a partner and divorce lawyer at Babbitt and Dahlberg, a Columbus-based family law firm.
“While the courts haven’t seen many cases yet, we start with the assumption that same-sex couples will be treated by the courts the same way heterosexual couples are treated,” says Dahlberg, “However, there are definitely some unique challenges to consider and carefully weigh.”
For example, he says, property division could be an issue because unlike many heterosexual couples, many same-sex couples spent years, or even decades, living together and sharing property before they were able to legally marry. And in Ohio, things get even more complicated for LGBT couples who married in other states or countries before Obergefell. Those unions have only been recognized by the State of Ohio for the past year. Because Ohio law primarily deals with property acquired during a marriage, it’s possible that everything such a couple earned prior to their legal marriage might be off the table for equal division.
Individual circumstances, from the couple’s history to how they’ve managed finances throughout their relationship, may factor into the court’s recommendations on how to divide that property. Even more reason, Dahlberg says, that LGBT couples should find qualified divorce attorneys, especially if they are have accumulated wealth or own a small business.
And arguably even more important than property considerations are child custody issues.
“There is no clear guidance yet for children born before a same-sex couple’s marriage,” said Dahlberg.
Previously, legal adoption or co-custody agreement was the best process to guarantee the recognition of a parental role. Now, if the child is born after marriage, parental status in a divorce should be equal for both partners, even if one partner is a birth parent.
“This presumes recognition of the parental relationship,” added Dahlberg. “While we have no specific guidelines, we can reasonably use this as a starting point.”
Within the past few months, Babbitt & Dahlberg has begun the counseling process for one of their first clients in a same-sex marriage wishing to end their relationship.
“There is no shame in ending a marriage,” Dahlberg said. “I like to remind clients that while this may be a difficult time in their lives, we are here to help them save money and future heartache by addressing unexpected issues now.”