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Judge rules married same-sex couple can't divorce in state

The legality of same-sex marriage is in a state of limbo in Texas after a federal judge struck down a state law prohibiting the practice. The state will apparently appeal that ruling, and it's still not clear when, if ever, same-sex marriages will begin to take place in Texas. Meanwhile, a judge's ruling in another state shows how important the legality of same-sex marriage can be when it comes to same-sex divorce.

Recently, an Alabama judge dismissed a divorce petition by a lesbian couple who live in the state but were married in Iowa. In a one-sentence order, the Alabama judge ruled that state law did not give the court any grounds to grant relief to the request.

Same-sex marriage is legally recognized in Iowa, but not in Alabama. A law passed in 1998 prohibited the state from recognizing same-sex marriages even when they were performed in a jurisdiction where the practice is legal. The couple could return to Iowa to seek a divorce, but Iowa requires a year of residency before it will grant a divorce. Other states that recognize same-sex marriage have residency requirements as well.

When a state does not recognize a same-sex marriage, people who are in a same-sex marriage are denied important rights to inheritance and other matters that are automatic for people in opposite-sex marriages. Some of the most important only make themselves known should the couple decide to divorce. Without a legally recognized marriage, the parties have little or no legal right to property division or the other processes designed to make a divorce relatively fair. Domestic partnership laws can provide some protection, but without a full right to property division, a break up can lead to financial injustice.

Texas and the rest of the nation are struggling with the changing legal landscape of same-sex marriage, and probably will be for some time to come. In the mean time, those who are seeking a same-sex divorce need the help of attorneys who understand the complicated legal issues they face.

Source: AL.com, "Alabama judge tosses divorce case filed by same-sex couple," Brian Lawson, March 12, 2014

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