With the new development under the law of same-sex marriage becoming widely recognized, the inevitable question arises of how this will impact same-sex couples when their relationship needs to end. What will some of the changes be in ending a domestic partnership versus a legal marriage in Oregon and Washington?
In Oregon and Washington, the area of the law that is most influenced by this new legality is spousal support. Oregon courts have long had the authority to dissolve a domestic partnership. In divorce law, the Oregon courts are charged with resolving five topics. (1) Division of assets, (2) an award of spousal support, (3) an award of child support, (4) determining legal custody of children, and (5) establishing a parenting plan.
In a case dissolving a domestic partnership, the only authority the court had is in relation to dividing the parties’ assets and debts. There are nuances of course, but by and large the court has had the same authority with respect to dividing property for non-married couples as it has for married couples. However, only with legal marriages does the court have clear authority to award spousal support. This means that in the case of same-sex couples without children, once you are legally married you are entitled to ask for spousal support from your ex during a divorce, whereas you were not entitled to this same privilege before the new laws.
The second area that is impacted is the presumed relationship of the same-sex spouse when a couple has children during a relationship. Traditionally, when a woman has a child while married, the law states that the Husband is presumed to be the father. With domestic partnerships, there was no such presumption under the law, so a same-sex couple having children needed to find alternate means to establish legal parenthood, such as adoption before the court would recognize the non-biological parent as having rights over the children. This field of the law is certainly in a state of flux right now, and it will be interesting to see the full breadth of the implications of these new exciting laws.