Same-sex Utah couples now have the right to divorce

Marriage equality is on the minds of many in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states. While same-sex marriage was already legal in Utah, the legalization in all 50 states is welcome news to the LGBT community.

The path to marriage equality in Utah arose from a series of complex and lengthy lawsuits. It began in 2013 with a U.S. District Court judge finding Utah's voter-approved ban violated the 14th Amendment, and ended on October 6, 2014, when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. However, many legislators did not stop there. Utah filed an Amicus Brief (a "friend of the court" brief) during the most recent decision in June, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to allow states to define marriage as between a man and woman.

Fortunately for same-sex couples, the nation's highest court declined to do so, likely ending the question of same-sex marriage for our lifetimes with a resounding yes; same-sex couples are entitled to equal rights under the law.

Importantly, in the debate for same-sex marriage equality, less attention was paid to other family law rights, including the right to divorce. On July 8, shortly after the Supreme Court's decision, Governor Gary Herbert said about Utah's marriage laws that "I think there is some uncertainty in the future, because in our statutes, in probably hundreds of places, marriage has been defined historically and legally as one man and one woman." Sections of Utah state law, including on adoptions, birth certificates, and tax laws, will have to be changed or reconsidered by courts in light of the Supreme Court's recent ruling.

Divorce for same-sex couples

Same-sex couples legally married in other states who moved to Utah before 2013 experienced hardship when their marriage, like many others, did not work out. Same-sex couples had few options, which included moving to another state which recognized same-sex divorce or simply remaining "married" in name only. Further complications arose when the couple shared a home together or mingled assets and income. Divorce, while not pleasant, is necessary and vital when ending a marriage. The inability to obtain a divorce can lead to significant inequality in a division of assets and a lack of closure to a relationship.

Getting legal help with the dissolution of a marriage

While some issues remain legally gray, certain issues are common across all divorces. One of the primary considerations is the division of assets. This could include dividing retirement assets, what to do with the marital home, and dividing personal property. For same-sex couples seeking to divorce, these issues can be resolved equitably through divorce.

Custody matters are also a primary concern for divorcing couples, one made more complex by the state of Utah's laws. For example, will Utah courts favor custody for a parent with biological ties, either explicitly or implicitly? While some questions remain, the important thing for same-sex couples who have realized that their marriage is not working out is that they can divorce. In Utah, and now in all 50 states, they will have the full protection of the law when seeking a divorce.

Kristopher K. Greenwood & Associates is a family law firm located in Ogden, Utah providing experienced representation on a variety of legal matters, including divorce, child custody and parental rights.