Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Do you have to get divorced every time you move?

Are you married?

If so, when's the last time you had to get divorced and remarried just because you moved within the United States?

If you're in an opposite-sex couple and you're married, chances are you got married, and no matter where in the US you've moved, you've stayed married.  It's probably never occurred to you to get divorced and remarried just because you were moving to another city or county in your state, or to another state.

Sounds pretty silly, actually, right?

But if you're in a same-sex couple, though, this might sound all too familiar to you:
  • If you live in a city or state that offers a legal domestic partnership or civil union, and you move, your current domestic partnership / civil union / etc. is not valid in the city or state where you're moving.
  • If by some chance the place where you're moving offers domestic partnership, civil union, or civil marriage, in order to register a new one there, you have to dissolve your current domestic partnership or civil union first.
  • In certain jurisdictions, it won't be enough to file the new paperwork; you will have to have another wedding ceremony in order for your domestic partnership / civil union / civil marriage to be legally binding.  Going to City Hall and/or appearing before a judge, justice of the peace, the mayor, and signing paperwork will not be enough; you will have to make a separate trip where you have another wedding.  
No!  I'm really not kidding!

In essence, same-sex couples have to get divorced and remarried every time we move.

(It's possible there are exceptions to this.  I don't know of any.  Some states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions, but none I know of recognize domestic partnerships or civil unions from other jurisdictions; and many domestic partnership laws and civil union laws are written to be invalid in any other state.)

Let me repeat that:

In essence, same-sex couples have to get divorced and remarried every time we move.

If you're a straight ally to people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer, does this idea come as a complete surprise to you?  A lot of people I've been talking to lately have been truly shocked to hear this.

And that has surprised me.

A true story of a real couple

Jane and Amy meet, fall in love, the whole nine yards.  They move in together.  They are led to marry.  They have a wonderful wedding in their Quaker meeting / Coven / Grove / backyard / church / synagogue / religious community, with lots of friends and family present.  

As part of their discernment process around marriage, they research how best to protect themselves, each other, and their family legally.

Their city has a domestic partnership law.  But it turns out it doesn't offer them any protection at all -- since neither of them is a City employee, it's just a piece of paper with the mayor's signature, saying they're domestic partners.  It won't let them visit each other in the hospital or make medical decisions for each other, for example, or give each other rights of survivorship if one should die.  Jane and Amy also realize that they feel a strong religious leading not to register a domestic partnership or civil union, because it's unequal treatment under the law; they feel led to wait for civil marriage.  So they don't register.

With an elder from their religious community, they do go to City Hall to apply for a marriage license, knowing they'll be turned down, to make a point.  City Hall clerks refuse to issue them even an application, on the grounds that they're a same-sex couple and therefore can't receive a marriage license.  

Jane and Amy do the next-best things to protect themselves and their family legally. They make their wills, their advance directives (living wills), and their health care and financial powers of attorney.  They have them witnessed and notarized.  They make sure there are copies with their doctors, their multiple cascading attorneys-in-fact, a number of friends and family members, and the office of their Quaker Meeting / church / synagogue / Coven / religious community.

Potential divorce #1

A couple of years go by.  Jane changes careers.  Jane and Amy move to City B, State B so that Jane can go to graduate school in her field in another state.  Amy no longer has insurance through her job, but she can get on Jane's insurance -- if they're registered as domestic partners in their new city.  Potential divorce #1.  In order to register as domestic partners in City B, they have to dissolve any pre-existing domestic partnerships -- even between the two of them -- in any other jurisdictions.  If they had registered as domestic partners in City A, they would now have to dissolve that domestic partnership in order to become domestic partners in City B.

Oh, and while they're at it, they should see a lawyer about the different laws in State B, and re-do their wills, their advance directives, and their health care and financial powers of attorney, then re-distribute the copies of the new ones.

Potential divorce #2; actual divorce #1 

Amy and Jane register as domestic partners in City B.  While they're living there, a statewide ballot initiative comes before the voters in State B to amend the state constitution to make all domestic partnership laws and domestic partner benefits illegal.  Potential divorce #2. 

It passes.  Actual divorce #1.  

Thanks to the work of Jane's employer, and that of many other employers across the state, Amy and many other same-sex partners still have health insurance -- and so do many of those couples' kids, since the ballot initiative also threatened to nullify many second-parent adoptions.

Jane finishes graduate school, and, like many early-career academics, lands a series of post-doctoral teaching and research jobs -- in different states.   

Potential divorce #3 

Jane and Amy move to City C, State C together.  State C has a reasonably strong domestic partnership law.  They don't need to register for Amy to have access to Jane's benefits as Jane's partner, they're going to be there a short time, and State C has a good history of hospitals, for example, honoring powers of attorney.  They don't have a leading to register or any practical reasons to do so.  They don't register.

However, if they had registered, and if the voters of State B hadn't dissolved it for them already, they would have had to dissolve their domestic partnership from City B first.  Potential divorce #3. 

They should also re-do their wills, their advance directives, and their health care and financial powers of attorney for State C, then re-distribute the copies of the new ones again.  

Potential divorces #4 and #5

Jane's job ends, and Jane and Amy move to City D, State D for her next job.

They should re-do their wills, their advance directives, and their health care and financial powers of attorney for State D, then re-distribute the copies of the new ones again.

State D has a civil union law that is court-mandated to offer all the benefits and obligations of marriage ("everything but marriage").  Amy and Jane are dubious.  It's still not marriage.  They've also heard stories of hospitals and employers refusing to recognize civil unions because they're not marriages. 

They check out the law.  It's pretty robust; in fact, it's identical to opposite-gender marriage in their state, with two exceptions -- it's called "civil union" instead of "marriage," and it's not recognized federally or by other states.  They look at the application and application process.  It's identical for all couples, regardless of the genders of the people involved. 

In spite of the limitations, they have some good practical reasons to do it.  They also begin to get the inkling of a leading to do it.  Hmmmm.

In order to register a civil union in State D (have you guessed it yet?), neither of them can be in a domestic partnership, civil union, or marriage with anyone (including each other) in any other jurisdiction.  Had the voters of State B not dissolved Amy and Jane's City B domestic partnership for them, Amy and Jane would have to do that now.  Potential divorce #4. 

If Amy and Jane had registered a legal/civil domestic partnership in State C, they would have to dissolve that now.   Potential divorce #5. 

But wait, there's more!

In order for their civil union to be legally binding, Jane and Amy have to have another ceremony.  They literally have to have another wedding.

Because one wasn't enough.

They complain, but they do it. 

Potential divorce #6  

Jane and Amy are about to celebrate their seventh wedding anniversary.  (Of their first, religious wedding, the one with lots of people and joy and love and community.)

Jane also has a permanent job!  There is much rejoicing.

However, for Jane's new job, Amy and Jane have to move again.

Jane and Amy are in a civil union in the state they're living in now...

What do you think, dear readers?  Will they need to get divorced and remarried; will this be actual divorce number two?  Or by some chance and intersection of laws, since their civil union is nearly identical to marriage, will their civil union transfer? 

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode.

Keeping track of it all

I know people who keep a spreadsheet of their various domestic partnerships, civil unions, civil marriages, religious marriage if applicable, and the associated dates. 

And what about benefits that are dependent on the date a couple gets married?

No, this isn't equality.  No, this isn't justice.  No, this isn't full faith and credit, either. 

What would solve this

Marriage equality would solve this.

Legal, civil marriage for couples regardless of gender, recognized on the federal level, recognized in all states. 




      Anonymous said...

      thanks for your post, and your earlier one on this topic, as it presents a concrete picture of what the issues are.

      and a question: do vacations in a different state also create a number of uncertainties and potential problems?

      eg, you take a vacation in another state, and have need of emergency medical care during the trip. will your visitation rights to your partner still be preserved, since your union is from another state? does it go by residence of the patient, or by where the hospital itself is?

      what about other inconveniences, such as rental car companies perhaps charging extra fees if "non family members" also drive the rental car? and if there were an accident, would they claim after the fact that you didn't pay the fee and hence weren't covered, despite what they may have told you previously when trying to get your business?

      not that the first can of worms wasn't complex enough, but it just seemed there might be even more worms hiding somewhere.


      Hystery said...

      Sadly, as bizarre as all of this is, this information doesn't surprise me. I've learned to expect aburdity in the laws related to the civil rights (or lack thereof)of LGBTQ couples and individuals. I'm glad you're writing about this. It is important that we refrain from getting too comfortable with injustice. I'm glad you are willing to sensitize people who might prefer that you just keep quiet.

      staśa said...

      Hi, Stan! Thanks for your comment.

      You raise good points!

      Yes, vacations in other states present all sorts of uncertainties and problems. And what about what might happen en route, in yet another state?

      Plus, some states, such as VA, refuse to recognize not only domestic partnerships, civil unions, and marriages from other states, but also adoptions and even health care powers of attorney. In VA, that's the law; in others, it's not always clear how much is law and how much is convention.

      There was a horrible case in FL a few years ago. Janice Langbehn and Lisa Pond were vacationing with their children when Pond collapsed. Langbehn and the children were kept away from Pond while she was dying, and were prevented from obtaining necessary legal information after her death as well.

      Langbehn, who now keeps a blog about the kids, describes herself as "an accidental activist."

      You can do a google search on either of their names (or both) to get details of their situation.

      But yes, many of us restrict where we'll travel, make sure we travel with copies of our documents, and all sorts of things that, when you think about it, are crazy.

      Some companies have given me and Beloved Wife the rental car discount, some not. I've never heard of after-the-fact changing, since it's usually fairly well-documented who's okay to drive on the car in all the write-up; and most of the time, not only do my wife and I double-check instead of assume, we also get the name of the person we spoke with. In states with a state-wide DP or CU law, they won't have a leg to stand on if they bait and switch, and will usually grant the discount; those are the only states where I've had the discount, so I honestly don't know how it would work, for example, where there's only a local DP law...

      No, it's sad but true, there are worms everywhere. And not always the happy kind who make compost.

      staśa said...

      Hystery, thank you. I feel like I walk a fine line sometimes between writing in a way that helps people hear; writing my outrage in a clear way; and sputtering in incoherence.

      Thanks for your support, for being clued in, and for listening.

      bnewman said...

      A lot of people I've been talking to lately have been truly shocked to hear this.

      And that has surprised me.

      I agree that it's sad how many people don't realize what's at stake, and that raising awareness is essential. I think I appreciate how draining it can be to face and overcome that sense of shocked disbelief every time you need to explain your situation. However, I also think that your experience — that most people to whom you tell this story are shocked by it — should be taken as encouraging.

      If most people are shocked by the current state of marriage inequality, cannot conceive of its full extent, and are uncomfortable thinking about it, it is because they find marriage inequality to be shocking, inconceivable, and unthinkable. That's good, ultimately. The fact that thinking about the current state of marriage inequality makes most people uncomfortable means most people are open to seeing it change.

      What you really don't want to hear in response to this story is "Well, of course, what did you expect?"

      RantWoman said...

      A Friend at the NPYM Queer Quakers gathering this year joked about a conversation something like this:

      "HOney, where should we go on vacation this year?"

      "I dunno. Where can we get married that we haven't been to before?"

      Then there would also be the hip trendy term poly-monogamy for all the same gender couples obliged to get married over and over to each other.

      staśa said...

      Oh, my! Yes. That's great!

      As far as I know, nobody got married in Iowa who went there for FGC Gathering this summer, although there was lots of joking around about that last summer.

      Poly-monogamy... *snerk*.

      I have a follow-up post I should write once we settle in (we just moved)...