Until the Summer of 2015, same-sex couples legally joined in marriage in other states were locked into their marriages in Pennsylvania. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania did not recognize their marriage, so they were unable to obtain a divorce in Chester County, Delaware County or Montgomery County courts. It was a cruel and unfair situation for these couples: Stuck in a marriage they did not even want to be in because of state-sanctioned bigotry against that very marriage.
The Courts make a Ruling: A federal court case in 2014 struck down Pennsylvania's marriage ban. The Commonwealth then ceased defending its position and recognized the same-sex marriages of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. A landmark decision: The historic 2015 Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges cemented this constitutional principle. Click here for more information. All couples have a right to marry in Pennsylvania now - and a right to divorce if that marriage doesn't work out.
While as a society, we celebrate the right to marry, it is important to understand that marriages do not always last. If are in a same-sex marriage and no longer wish to be in that marriage, you now have a right to seek a divorce under Pennsylvania law. Even if you were married in another state prior to 2014 and are now a resident of Chester County or the surrounding area.
Wesley is a West Chester divorce lawyer who understands and believes that equality has been moving in the right direction for the LBGT community. The fight for marriage was a hard-won battle for Pennsylvania's LGBT community. With marriage comes the possibility of divorce and in this instance, equality means that when same-sex couples cannot resolve their issues, they have the same options as any other married people.
Contact Wesley today at (484) 401-7079 to set up a consultation. Based in West Chester, Pennsylvania, he represents members of the LGBT community throughout Chester County, Delaware County and Montgomery County.
Same-sex marriage became legal in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in May 2014, when a U.S. federal district court judge ruled the 1996 Pennsylvania statutory ban on recognizing same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. The Pennsylvania had prohibited same-sex marriage and refused to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
Until May 2014, the Commonwealth never recognized civil unions or domestic partnerships. However, Governor Tom Corbett announced the day after the ruling that he would not appeal Judge John E. Jones' decision. Thus, effectively making Pennsylvania the 19th state to recognize same-sex marriage. It was the last state in the Northeast region to recognize same-sex marriage.
On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court released its' opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges. Opined by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the opinion reached the conclusion that same-sex couples have a right to marry under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Kennedy wrote (in part):
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.
The Pennsylvania case that essentially made same-sex marriage into law does not reference civil unions or domestic partnerships. At this time, it remains unclear if the state will recognize those statuses. To have the rights of married couples, same-sex partners likely would have to enter into a legal marriage.
The federal government and the Internal Revenue Services continues not to recognize civil unions or domestic partnerships as the equivalent of marriage for federal tax purposes. Couples still would need to get married in order to file your taxes as "married." In addition, a couple would have to be legally married to file for divorce.
A marriage between same-sex partners is equivalent to a traditional marriage in Pennsylvania. Divorcing same-sex couples now have the same access to the Pennsylvania Courts just as non-LGBT (heterosexual) couples, with the same rights and obligations under the Pennsylvania law, including filing for divorce.
Same-sex couples who are married must file for a divorce to terminate the marriage and all property rights, including equitable distribution of marital property and (after divorce) alimony. Spouses also may be forced to financially support the other spouse during a period of separation and may be responsible for debts incurred by the spouse during the marriage, just as heterosexual couples are also compelled under the law.
The process of filing for a divorce is the same for LGBT couples as it is for heterosexual couples. To divorce in Pennsylvania, one of the spouses must have lived in the state for at least six months prior to the date of the filing. The filing spouse also must file the divorce in the appropriate county.
Married same-sex couples have the opportunity to file for all the different types of divorces, including:
Fault divorce — To obtain an at-fault divorce, or a contested divorce, the filing spouse must make one of several allegations that his or her spouse committed a certain bad act or mistreated him or her in some way. An example, if a spouse committed adultery or domestic violence, the other could file for an at-fault divorce.
No-fault divorce — A no-fault divorce, often called an uncontested or simple divorce, typically is the easiest and least expensive way to end a marriage. If both parties in the marriage want a divorce, they can file and then both file an affidavit saying they give mutual consent for the termination. After 90 days from the date of filing, the court may then grant the decree. No hearing is required.
Collaborative divorce — This process is known as a friendly divorce. The two parties agree to the marriage termination, and then the spouses and their attorneys negotiate out a settlement with how they will divide their assets. There is no trial or hearing to attend.
If you have decided that you have to end your marriage, or if you are responding to an action initiated by your same-sex spouse, you will need an attorney with the experience and understanding to guide you through this difficult situation. Wesley W. Legg, Esquire is dedicated to helping you through the divorce process. Call (484) 401-7079 to schedule a consultation.