The changing political landscape surrounding the rights of same-sex couples has led to difficulty for many simply wishing to commit to a marriage, or for that matter dissolve one. Fortunately, same-sex marriage in New Jersey was legalized in October 2013 allowing many long-term partners and couples already in a civil union to have the same rights as heterosexual married couples.
While this was a joyous victory for many in the state, it also opened up a multitude of legal questions concerning factors such as equitable distribution, alimony, and child custody, should a couple be seeking divorce. While these issues are identical to those seen in heterosexual divorce, tackling them for same-sex couples in New Jersey is more complex due to evolving laws. This can be especially difficult for couples who were in a committed relationship for many years before having the chance to enter a civil union pursuant to N.J.S.A. 37:1-28 to -36, the New Jersey Civil Union act (enacted in 2007) or marriage. Years of accrued assets and property and children of the relationship were not viewed by the law as they would be for married partners.
Many same-sex couples who were in long-term committed relationships wanted to marry but were unable to do so until 2013. A majority of assets would have been accrued during the time before the marriage period, but under the law only those gained after the marriage in 2013 would be considered marital assets for equitable distribution. However, this does not mean that the appropriate divorce relief cannot be granted, only that the court process will likely be more challenging as many judges are not yet fully accustomed to handling same-sex divorce. The same applies to couples still in civil unions seeking dissolution.
BENEFITS OF DIVORCE MEDIATION FOR SAME-SEX COUPLES
Due to the complexity and newness of same-sex divorce, alternative approaches like mediation are highly beneficial. Mediation allows couples to work through their issues to reach a fair compromise without the stress of litigated divorce. Hour long sessions are conducted with a New Jersey mediation attorney, and if needed a third party professional such as a financial planner or psychologist. If a couple is able to work together and communicate effectively, the cost of mediation will drop as the amount of sessions needed decreases.
Same-sex divorce mediation allows couples to bypass the uncertainly of evolving laws and set their own terms. It can also be beneficial for children as it usually translates to parents with better communication skills who are more focused on problem solving than finger pointing.
Although same-sex divorce mediation is not right for everyone, for those who are open to working together it can be the least stress producing and most cost effective option.