same sex divorce

Welcome 2013

This was my 2013 post for LinkedIn Influencers (posted in December):

Welcome 2013. While the years roll by quickly, laws are often slow to catch up to the times. Legislatures move slowly, politicians worry about how their votes on new laws will affect their chances for reelection. And judges have much incentive to take the safe road, follow the rules and laws that have been around forever and to be sure they are themselves upheld on appeal. To accept a novel argument or interpretation of the law opens a judge up to much scrutiny and criticism. But there remains so much room for improvement in the area of family law. Not just to our laws, but within our profession as well. We need increased civility between lawyers and between parties. We need better education about the process and the tools available to achieve resolution. And we need better, more modern laws, to handle the new realities of our society.

On a national and state by state basis we must address how to help same sex couples dissolve their relationships in a civil manner. If they are not allowed to marry, perhaps they should still be allowed to divorce? Otherwise they will still end their relationships, but the process will continue to be confusing, frustrating and sometimes violent. When human beings have no recourse under the law, they engage in self help (sometimes called vigilante justice). Why not permit these tax paying and law abiding citizens to use our court system to resolve their disputes like other citizens? Wether you approve of same sex relationships or not, they exist and prohibiting same sex marriage, or same sex divorce, does not and will not stop same sex relationships. Instead, it helps avoid land disputes, child custody disputes, title disputes and many other problems that ultimately cause all of us money since our tax dollars pay for courts, policemen and other services that are needed when disputes get out of hand. Courts, when permitted to help members of society, for instance in same sex divorces, will reduce cost, tension and resources across the board and thereby help all taxpayers.

So what about DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act)? Will it fall this year? It seems inevitable. The federal government which has historically left family law matters to the states, stepped deep into family law when it approved DOMA. It seems the current trend is to to see DOMA as overreaching. I believe DOMA will be undone (by the courts, since a majority of legislators will likely never vote to do something that implies that they approve of gay marriage).

And international custody issues including abductions, denial of visitation rights and even simple communication via new technology should be reviewed. We all remember the Sean Goldman custody case in Brazil. There are so many cases like his that are not reported in our press. Kids get taken from (or to) the U.S. and are never returned. Even in countries that have signed the relevant Hague Treaties, it is often difficult to get a child back. And in others such as Japan, it is nearly impossible. We need to work on this in 2013.

But again, civility. Handling our family matters in a civil and peaceful way is a must. It all starts with family. And we as lawyers must do our part. Yes family matters such as divorce and custody disputes fall into our adversarial system of justice. And for some disputes, it must be so. But so many family disputes can be resolved amicably if we just let emotions subside. If we pause and think about how we want our children to know we handled our differences. Wouldn’t we all be prouder if family law disputes were resolved by the parties involved and not by lawyers and judges who had never known the family when they got along? Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) has played an increasing role in family law. Be it mediation, arbitration, late case evaluation or collaborative law, there are many more options in 2013 than there were in 2003 or in 1993. Let’s take advantage of these resources, and lets all, lawyers, judges, mediators, expert witnesses, psychologists and parties, pledge to work amicably. Court decided resolution is never as good as a result agreed to by the people involved. And that can best be accomplished if we act civilly. Especially us lawyers. We do not have to continue seeing the other side after the dispute is resolved. But our clients do. They will go to their kids’ weddings and other events together. Lets commit to doing our best to ensure that these future events and life itself, will be better and easier for our clients because of the efforts we undertake. That’s my commitment for 2013. I look forward to a positive year of helping people and doing my best to ease their burdens and not to increase them.

Gay Marriage Issues are everywhere, not just NY

I blogged a few days ago about President Obama’s decision to support the repeal of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) which is the federal law defining marriage as between a man and a woman and stating that states need not respect marriages performed in other states which are between members of the same sex. Now gay marriage is again in the news as New York has passed a law allowing it and this week the first gay marriages in New York have taken place. The local public radio station interviewed me about it and got me thinking (the interview can be heard by clicking here). The expansion of gay marriage to New York increases the likelihood that other states such as Georgia will encounter these issues. There will be gay couples who divorce in New York, legally, and then move to Georgia. Then the dilemma for Georgia courts will be how to treat such valid orders from other states. Under DOMA, Georgia would not have to recognize such an order based on a gay marriage. But if DOMA is overturned by the new “Respect for Marriage” act, then would Georgia be violating the full faith and credit clause of the U.S. Constitution if it did not recognize and enforce a valid “gay divorce”? These are interesting questions and I continue to look forward to them unfolding and how our judiciary and bar work to resolve these issues. The solutions are not easy and the process has obstacles, but our civilized society has handled and overcome much tougher issues. I am confident this one will be resolved with time as well.

OBAMA to oppose DOMA/Thoughts on Same Sex Divorce

For years the White House has vowed to support the Defense of Marriage Act, and this week President Obama changed course (click here for NY Times article). DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) was signed into law fifteen years ago by then President Bill Clinton. It basically is the federal government stepping into family law (which seems to be the trend) and determining, on a federal level, that marriage can only be between a man and a woman and that states do not have to recognize (give full faith and credit) to a marriage between members of the same sex even if the state where they were married allows them to do so legally-see Wikipedia definition of DOMA by clicking here. Most legal scholars (and some state courts) find the law unconstitutional.

But now President Obama has announced that he will support the repeal of this law. This does not mean states have to allow same sex marriage, but it does remove a large obstacle for gay marriage proponents. The legislation President Obama now supports still has yet to pass, but this is a big first step.

Regardless of whether people feel gay marriage should be allowed or not, I think I am a proponent of allowing gay divorce. Not because it generates more business for divorce lawyers; in fact, it will create less business because the process of separating gay couples and dividing their assets and working out visitation arrangements for their children would then be simpler and much less costly. Rather the reason to support allowing gay couples to divorce is that it gives law abiding adults a method to resolve disputes that will arise whether there is gay marriage or not. Throughout time there have been same sex relationships. The real question for me is how we, as an advanced civilization, handle the legal aspects of a separation. If we ignore it and put our heads in the sand, that helps no one. The problems remain, people engage in self help and take what they want, including children and the result is chaos.

I am not sure what the future holds, but it seems that a legal process, whether it is allowing same-sex divorce or whether we term it something else would be a positive step for our society and most importantly for the children of same sex couples.