D.C. weighs same-sex divorce bill

December 22, 2011

A bill tackling divorce for same-sex couples who marry in the District but want to divorce in another state has quietly garnered support from a majority of D.C. Council members.

The Civil Marriage Dissolution Equality Amendment Act of 2011 was introduced by Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) and co-sponsored by eight of 13 council members. It would allow same-sex couples who married in the District but have moved away to divorce without having to return to complete a six-month residency requirement, which is currently mandatory.

Many states do not have legal mechanisms for same-sex divorce, leaving divorcing couples who married in the District but now live elsewhere in a bind. Washington-based family law attorney Sebastian Krop said that for many couples wishing to divorce, returning to the District to wait out the residency requirement isn’t an option.

Krop thinks the amendment is necessary.

“It’s sort of natural that it’s not always rosy and things go downhill,” he said, “so they’re stuck in their marriage.”

The D.C. bill was introduced in October. Mendelson’s office did not provide a timeline Thursday for a council vote.

The District legalized same-sex marriage in 2009.

From state to state, same-sex divorce laws are a patchwork or nonexistent. For instance, a couple who married in the District but are separated in Virginia — a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage — would not meet residency requirements for divorce in the District.

Robin Maril, legislative council for administrative advocacy for the Human Rights Campaign, said that many early versions of same-sex marriage legislation didn’t provide for divorce. An easier process to complete divorce should be added, she said.

“This would really round out and make this a holistic approach to same-sex marriage in the District,” Maril said.

California and Delaware have passed laws this year making residency requirements less of an issue for divorcing couples.

Susan Sommer, director of constitutional litigation at the gay advocacy group Lambda Legal, said the laws reduce confusion and complications for couples wishing to move on.

“Part of what’s important about divorce is, of course, it dissolves,” Sommer said. “But it also brings closure to a relationship. It has a psychological function.”

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