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Marriages, whether they are between heterosexual couples or same-sex couples, don't always last. Unfortunately, just as same-sex couples used to face unique hurdles in order to marry, they often face unique challenges in divorce as well -- particularly in the area of asset division.

If you're part of a same-sex couple and you're considering divorce, it's important to understand your rights to the marital assets and how the length of your relationship may be a factor when those assets get divided.

Your legal rights

Marital assets generally include anything of value acquired after the marriage began. Marital debt includes all debts acquired after the marriage (no matter which spouse accrued the bills).

California uses the community property rule, so those assets and debts both get divided up 50/50 when you divorce.

Your relationship's length

Many same-sex couples jumped at the chance to make their marriage legal when it became possible. Unfortunately, California has an incredibly convoluted history when it comes to same-sex marriages. Marriage was on the table and back off again for same-sex couples so fast that many who wanted to marry didn't have a chance. Some settled for a domestic partnership, while others felt that was a betrayal of their conscience and held out for marriage.

The net effect of all the changing laws (plus the various laws in other states as same-sex marriage became legal in some places but not others) means that there are a lot of same-sex couples out there who have been unofficially "together" far longer than they've been legally married.

Since the date of a marriage generally determines which assets and debts are part of the marital estate (and which aren't), the date a union is officially recognized can have a huge impact on a divorce settlement.

Your right to a fair split

To fairly divide assets and debts, the court may not be able to rely on a marriage's legal start date especially with couples that have been together for many years.

It isn't always easy to establish the true date of origin for a relationship, but it's something that any same-sex couple needs to consider when filing for divorce. It's definitely something that should be discussed early in the process so that you can approach the problem with a viable plan.

Source: FindLaw, "Same-Sex Marriage Legal Pros and Cons," accessed May 23, 2018

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