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No matter who you are, a divorce brings with it some sadness -- but same-sex couples struggled so long for marriage rights that it always seems especially poignant when a same-sex couple ends up divorced.

For many same-sex couples, however, that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how their divorces differ from that of heterosexual couples.

How so?

There's more social stigma

For years, homosexuals suffered from the narrative that they were, as a group, sexually-promiscuous and flighty. Same-sex couples who divorce feel like they're being scrutinized and are often afraid that they'll feed into that prejudice. Others feel pressure from inside their own communities to stay together -- mostly for the same reason.

Same-sex couples that have children feel an even greater sense of stigma. For many years, same-sex couples were discouraged from having children on the idea that same-sex parents were somehow inferior. A divorce between same-sex parents sometimes brings up emotional echoes of that time.

There's more fear about losing a community

Most heterosexual couples find that their social circles change drastically when they get divorced. That's often an additional pain that has to be endured as part of the change. For many same-sex couples, however, whose families refused to accept their sexual orientation, their social community has served as a replacement family unit. The idea of losing that "second family" can be overwhelming and create additional fear in a divorcing couple.

There are still conflicts regarding parenthood

Many of the past legal questions about same-sex parents are still unresolved, particularly those involving same-sex parents. When a same-sex couple divorces, it isn't always clear who has the legal right to be considered a child's parent -- and that can result in bitter custody disputes. Even when a divorce doesn't ultimately erupt into a custody battle, there may be additional anxiety about the divorce for the parent who isn't listed on a child's birth certificate.

Eventually, all of these differences may fade, but same-sex couples today still struggle with emotional and legal issues that most heterosexual couples no longer fear. If you're going through a same-sex divorce, talk to an attorney who understands the unique complications that can arise in your situation.

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