Same-sex couples should consider mediation

Same-sex couples continue to feel the long-term effects that are still being caused by a bitter fight over marriage equality throughout the last decade or so.

Now, instead of facing extra hurdles to tie the knot, same-sex couples may face a few unique issues when getting a divorce.

One of the problems facing a same-sex couple is that one or both members of the couple could be economically damaged if the official date of the marriage is much shorter than the actual relationship -- which is a reality for many. Couples may have been together for years or even decades before they were legally able to marry.

In a divorce, the date a marriage officially began can affect tremendously important things like the entitlement to ongoing spousal support and how assets are divided -- including retirement funds and 401K plans. It also ultimately affects the entitlement to certain government benefits, like a Social Security check on a divorced spouse's record.

Generally speaking, the member of the same-sex couple with the lower income is going to be at the biggest disadvantage if the court uses the legal date of marriage as its starting point when determining asset division and alimony. That naturally gives the spouse with more assets and income financial incentive to ask the court to stick with the legal marriage date.

Another issue that can arise is the confusing legalities that exist when a same-sex couple has an existing domestic partnership in place that was never dissolved. In those situations, couples actually have to go through the process of untangling both sets of legal bonds in order to dissolve their relationship.

Because of the potential for a long and expensive process in divorce court, experts suggest that same-sex couples consider taking a collaborative approach to ending their marriage. While it isn't always possible, it provides a way for the couple to work together toward a common goal -- even if that goal is to ultimately be free of each other.

Mediation allows divorcing couples to work together when it is convenient and the goal is the same, while providing a framework for a solution when the goals are different. It can also help you resolve the majority of your issues -- leaving only one or two sticking points for a court to decide if you and your spouse cannot.

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