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Divorce petitions highlight the status of same-sex marriage

A couple of weeks ago this blog noted a dispute over same-sex divorce in another state, in an effort to show the importance of the same-sex marriage debate now under way here in Texas. But Texans don't have to look at how same-sex divorce is playing out in other states: Texas has two important tests of same-sex divorce law going on right now.

The status of same-sex marriage in Texas has been up in the air since a federal judge ruled that the state's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. That ruling has been stayed until an appeals court rules on the issue.

Meanwhile, at least two cases have been filed in Texas by people who were legally married to their same-sex partners in states where such marriages are legal and now wish to end their marriages here in Texas. The first of these cases was heard last fall by the state Supreme Court, which has yet to issue a ruling. Another was filed just eight days before the federal judge's ruling.

The recent filing could be especially important because it involves a child custody dispute. A child was born during the marriage. One parent wishes to share joint custody of the now 13-month-old child, but the other claims that only one has legal rights to custody.

When Texas courts are prevented from recognizing a same-sex marriage, it means that the partners don't have many of the rights enjoyed by people in opposite-sex marriages. These include certain inheritance rights and tax benefits for couples who remain married, but they also include rights to fair property division and other parts of the divorce process. Child custody issues can be especially difficult for same-sex divorces as well, if one or both parties is not recognized as a biological or adoptive parent.

Hopefully, Texas will soon resolve the legal status of same-sex marriage. Meanwhile, when Texans in same-sex relationships have legal concerns, they need the help of attorneys who have been following the changing legal landscape and understand the special legal concerns of same-sex couples.

Source: MySA.com, "Same-sex divorce filed in Bexar County," Kolten Parker, March 17, 2014

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