When Same-Sex Couples Divorce

When Same-Sex Couples Divorce

For Gays and Lesbians, Splitting Up Can Create a Crisis of Self-Doubt

By Laura Markowitz

May/June 1994

WHEN A HETEROSEXUAL COUPLE marries, they automatically acquire a ready-made legal container that confers legitimacy on their relationship, granting them the right to call themselves a family. If they decide to end the marriage, the law provides codified procedures separation agreements, alimony, custody and property settlements that clarify each partner's rights and responsibilities. But how do lesbian and gay couples "divorce"? If there is no such thing as same-sex marriage, can there be same-sex divorce?

Having never been married in the eyes of the law, no matter how many decades living as spouses, gay and lesbian partners must invent their own forms of matrimony, and negotiate different kinds of separations than straight couples. Can the nonbiological father in a gay relationship that is splitting up demand visitation rights to his ex-lover's child, whom he has helped raise since the child was three? Does a lesbian who has been supporting her stay-at-home lover throughout their relationship have an obligation to provide something comparable to alimony after they separate?

On rare occasions, divorcing lesbians and gays take their disputes to court, but those who decide to seek outside help with their problems are far more likely to choose a therapist than a judge. Even more than heterosexual couples, they may need to be reassured that it is normal to be feeling as

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