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Some same-sex couples may not be able to divorce

The question of same-sex marriage has sparked heated debate in New Jersey during recent years, but a recent announcement by the Internal Revenue Service will be welcome news for supporters of the measure. The IRS announced that it will treat legally married same-sex couples as married for federal tax purposes even if they live in a state where such arrangements are not recognized. However, traveling to a state with more favorable laws to marry can raise family law challenges should the couple later decide to separate.

While states usually allow non-resident couples to marry, they rarely permit them to divorce. If a same-sex couple lives in a state where these marriages are not legal, they could find themselves in a situation where they cannot obtain a divorce in their home state or in the state in which they were married. This could lead to couples being trapped in marriages that are no longer working.

A potential solution would be for the federal government to develop a means to grant federal benefits to same-sex couples in a committed relationship without the requirement of a legal marriage. However, there are questions about the constitutional validity of this type of legislation. The military was taking this approach with a domestic partner registry, but they abandoned these plans and instead announced that they would recognize all marriages.

Partners in same-sex relationships have long sought the legal benefits and protections enjoyed by married couples, but a patchwork of federal and state laws can create thorny issues if the marriage does not go as planned. An attorney experienced in the areas of family law and divorce could be familiar with these challenges and may be able to advise nontraditional couples about the possible ramifications of traveling to another state in order to marry.

Source: Huffington Post, "Hidden Costs of Federal Marriage Benefits to Same-Sex Couples", Deborah Widiss, September 05, 2013

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