Changes in the law often happen when an appellate court makes a decision about a new or uncertain issue that must be followed by all lower courts. In New York, one appeals court decided an issue that will have serious implications for those in civil unions who live in the state.
In recent years, there were conflicts in laws over states that recognized same sex marriage, civil unions, and traditional marriage. The U.S. Supreme Court has already legalized same sex marriage, but there are still a number of procedural issues to be sorted out regarding exactly how divorces should be treated on a state by state basis, especially if a couple went into a foreign jurisdiction to obtain a civil union during the years when same sex marriage was not recognized.
Some divorces in the Queens area may be affected by a new decision
A member of the Legal Aid Society in New York explained to local viewers how the ruling on a case that originated in the state of Vermont would affect couples in a civil union. The ruling basically says that couples in civil unions living in the state must be given the same rights and responsibilities as all other marriages, including divorce procedures.
The issue originated when people entered into civil unions in certain jurisdictions before they would have been able to get married legally in most parts of the country. Vermont was the first state to allow civil unions before same sex marriage had been allowed anywhere else. A large percentage of civil unions granted in Vermont in those years were to New York residents who went across state lines. This was done more often by New Yorkers going into Vermont than in any other place in the U.S. for several years. Civil unions offered some of the same benefits and protections as marriage, but they were never treated exactly the same as a traditional male-female marriage by the court system. People who entered into these unions were basically stuck in a situation with a very vague legal status.
The specific case at issue originated in New York when a couple had entered into a civil union years earlier in 2001 in Vermont, got legally married in Canada in 2006, and then decided to get divorced in New York a decade later. The state courts did not quite know how to handle this novel situation. One spouse wanted the marriage in Canada to be considered the start of their marriage, while the other wanted the date of the civil union to be considered the beginning of their relationship, as this would affect property distribution based on the length of the marriage. A New York appellate court made the first decision on the issue within the state, where they decided that the civil union will be treated as a legitimate marriage if the couple divorces later. This has broad implications for areas such as alimony, child support and custody, property division, and the prospects of remarriage.
Contact a divorce expert in Queens
To learn more about getting help during a divorce, contact the attorneys at The Law Office of Charles Zolot. You will receive advice about any family law issues that are relevant to your situation.