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Divorce Issues Unique to LGBTQ+ Couples


Whenever two people form a romantic union, they make plans for a future together. No matter the gender identity or sexual orientation, couples share many of the same dreams and hopes. Yet like any other coupledom, LGBTQ+ pairings don’t always go the distance.

At McIntyre Tate LLP, we thoughtfully and compassionately help our LGBTQ+ clients end their marriages and move forward with their lives. They must resolve the same divorce matters relevant in the split of any couple, but there can be unique nuances.

Rhode Island’s Recognition of Same-Sex Couples

The Ocean State has recognized same-sex couples since 2002. The state allowed for a limited form of domestic partnership, then in 2011 authorized the formation of civil unions. Same-sex marriages were legalized in 2013, two years ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring same-sex marriage legal throughout the country in 2015.

LGBTQ+ and heterosexual couples now enjoy the same benefits and privileges in all 50 states.

Marriage in this state is now defined in law as the following:

Marriage is the legally recognized union of two (2) people. Terms relating to the marital relationship or familial relationships shall be construed consistently with this section for all purposes throughout the law, whether in the context of statute, administrative or court rule, policy, common law, or any other source of civil litigation.”

The basic requirements and restrictions around marriage are the same no matter the gender of the would-be spouses. Likewise, same-sex divorce in Rhode Island is also the same in the eyes of the law.

Divorce Grounds in Same-Sex Unions

Grounds for divorce in Rhode Island do not differ for LGBTQ+ couples. Most divorces take the no-fault route, called irreconcilable differences.

Fault-based grounds for a Rhode Island divorce include the following:

  • Impotency
  • Adultery
  • Extreme cruelty
  • Willful Desertion
  • Continued Drunkenness
  • Habitual, Excessive, and Intemperate Use of Opium, Morphine, or Chloral
  • Neglect
  • Any Other Gross Misbehavior and Wickedness

Many couples choose a no-fault divorce because they generally are resolved more quickly with less tension. That said, we will vigorously represent our client in court in a fault-based divorce.

Without regard to gender, all couples must solve the following issues:

Family laws are gender-neutral. No particular gender is given an advantage in child custody, spousal support, and other divorce matters.

Issues Unique to Same-Sex Divorce

Opposite-sex couples have always had the right to marry. Because of this right, courts could more easily determine if the property was acquired before marriage, for example. The length of the marriage is also cut and dry. These questions are much more difficult to answer in many non-heterosexual unions. The couples could have been in committed quasi-marital relationships long before they were legally able to marry.

Specific challenges in same-sex divorce include the following:

  • Asset and Debt Distribution: Many LGBTQ+ couples lived as married long before they were given the legal right to marry. Rhode Island is an equitable distribution state, where marital property acquired after the marriage is divided among the parties. Individuals keep their separate property, acquired before the union or received by gift or inheritance. Determining what is truly marital property vs. separate property can be particularly complicated in many situations.
  • Spousal Support. Either spouse can request spousal support. Short-term or rehabilitative support is designed to continue only until the spouse becomes self-sufficient. Permanent alimony is rare but is possible. The length of the marriage is one of several factors a judge considers when determining spousal support. A same-sex couple could have married in 2013 but had been together in a legally-recognized relationship for 10 years prior.
  • Child Custody: Children born today within a same-sex marriage are considered by the law no differently than children born to heterosexual couples. The Rhode Island Uniform Parentage Act, effective January 2021, automatically recognizes parents of children born within a marriage or civil union. Parentage can also be established through voluntary acknowledgment. A child born before 2021, however, may not be legally considered a child of the marriage. Ending an LGBTQ+ Marriage

Our attorneys at McIntyre Tate LLP have experience in helping clients wade through the complexities of divorce inherent in same-sex marriage.

Fighting for Your Interests in LGBTQ+ Divorce

At McIntyre Tate LLP, our priority is to help our clients end their marriages, settle any disputes, and move forward with their lives as quickly as possible. Backed by more than 150 years of collective experience, our team will provide personalized legal representation that upholds your values and goals.

Discuss your divorce case with one of our Rhode Island attorneys. Call (401) 351-7700 or complete our online form to schedule a consultation.

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