Gay Divorce?

The topic of same-sex marriage has recently become a major “hot-button” issue for policymakers and judicial circuits at the local, state, and national levels. While the determination of procedure has remained in the domain of legislatures and courthouses, same-sex couples have continued to create long-term relationships that have resulted in intertwined lives. Consequently, there has also been an increasing need for assistance and direction for couples during same-sex partnership dissolutions.

While there is a wealth of legal guidance on the dissolution of heterosexual marriages and partnerships (common law, palimony, etc.), there is very little information on the rights and processes involved with same-sex break-ups. Every state has its own interpretation, but the overwhelming consensus is that a partnership that cannot become a marriage does not have the rights of a marriage. Even Canada, which has made same-sex marriage legal in numerous provinces, initially failed to write the necessary legislation to deal with same-sex divorce.

Same-sex couples often have relationships that empirically mirror married couples. Depending on the state, this can include shared homes, cars, bank accounts, benefits plans, and even adopted children. However, if the relationship ends, there is little guidance for dissolutions without prior written contracts outlining the rights of each party. As with prenuptial agreements, many same-sex couples avoid breaching such a delicate subject while the relationship is in good standing.

As a result, couples are left with three options to proceed with in finalizing their break-up: ‘Without Help’, with ‘Divorce Attorneys’, and with a ‘Private Mediator’. The pros and cons of each option are listed below:

Without Help Least costly approach
Maintain privacy
“Cut and

Run” may be easier for some

No legally binding written agreement
Can miss

unconsidered details
Communication and compromise can be difficult

balance of power

Divorce Attorneys Experienced guidance
Legally binding agreements

side emphatically represented
Each side gets a personal focus on legal rights/options

Distanced negotiations

Can be very expensive
Nothing to file with court, so high costs

could be considered unnecessary
Extensive process and time

May still use a mediator

Private Mediator Experienced guidance
Legally binding agreements
Focus on

compromise and shared resolution
Usually completed in a day
Low cost option

and fees split between parties

Either side can end mediation
No guarantee of agreement

Mediator does not act as an attorney or financial advisor


While the country continues to struggle with the legal definitions of long-term same-sex partnerships, their presence cannot be denied. As with heterosexual unions, couples will continue to build lives together only to find that the relationship was not meant to last. How the assets, interests, and debts of the partnership are distributed requires careful thought and understanding of the options that exist. Only then, can the best resolution be determined and emotional closure achieved.


Matthew McCusker

Matthew McCusker is the founder of ACCORD Mediation, Arbitration, and Conflict Resolution. He mediates in the Atlanta area and throughout the State of Georgia with areas of focus including: domestic, civil, criminal, and even juvenile conflict. Additionally, as a conflict resolution consultant, Matthew assists many corporations with a variety of… MORE >

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