Since 2015, when a Supreme Court decision effectively legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, it’s only natural for newly married couples and long-time partners to consider the matter finally closed. But laws made in Washington take time to reach some corners of the country, and in many cities, that law may be less than settled. This leaves same-sex couples, partnerships, common law marriages, and divorces in uncertain legal territory.
The law of the land is clear: same-sex couples should (in theory) enjoy all the same legal rights and privileges as their heterosexual counterparts—both in unions and in separations. But in practice, the uneven application of law leaves too many unsure of their rights and unable to fight for inheritance, spousal support, child custody, or even power of attorney when they need it most.
Depending on where you live, how long you’ve been together, the legal standing of your union, or where your union was certified (foreign/domestic), you may encounter legal difficulties that prevent the full exercise of your rights.
Some common scenarios where legal issues arise include:
If you’ve been in a same-sex partnership for years (or even decades) but haven’t been legally married in the U.S. since the 2015 ruling, you may experience hardship in instances of divorce, child custody disputes, estate rights, and in assuming power of attorney for your partner. Your partnership comes with its own rights, however, and the long-standing legal prohibition on same-sex unions shouldn’t deprive you of the same privileges other couples enjoy.
Separations can be messy in the best of circumstances, but when local law fails to catch up to national law, separations can become even more uneven. Depending on the status of your partnership or marriage, you may have fewer legal options than you deserve, especially when it comes to spousal support, division of assets, or child custody.
Surviving Spousal Rights
The loss of a partner is never easy, but depending on the circumstances, you may have to battle both grief and the local authorities at the same time. You shouldn’t have to work so hard to prove your union, especially when burying your loved one.
Surviving spouses in same-sex unions often find themselves going to great lengths to secure their inheritance and all other rights resulting from a perfectly legal union. Those who chose not to legally marry beyond the 2015 ruling also have rights and options when surviving their partners.