Kate and Shelly were happily married in the District of Columbia in 2012. Soon after their wedding, they moved to Virginia to be closer to Shelly’s family. Unfortunately, the relationship began to deteriorate and, after several months of marriage counseling, the couple decided to divorce. However, when they began exploring their options, they quickly learned that the Virginia courts cannot grant a divorce to a same-sex couple. Kate met with an attorney to seek advice on how to proceed and learned the following:
Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have marriage equality laws for same-sex couples. While getting married is becoming easier for same sex couples, getting divorced remains a challenge, particularly for same sex couples living in the majority of states that do not recognize same-sex marriage. Unlike heterosexual couples – who can get divorced in the state in which they reside – same sex couples who live in a state without marriage equality generally cannot get divorced in their home state. The District of Columbia offers some relief for those couples.
The Civil Marriage Dissolution Equality Act of 2012 permits same-sex couples who were married in the District to divorce there — regardless of where they live now — if their home state does not allow same-sex couples to divorce. Thus, in the example above, Kate and Shelly can get a divorce in the District because they were married here and they now live in Virginia – a state which does not recognize same-sex marriages.
With the exception of the residency requirement, the basic requirements for getting a divorce in the District are the same for these couples – the parties must be continuously separated for six months if the separation is mutual and voluntary or the parties must be separated for twelve months. What is not yet clear, however, is whether a court in the District can do anything other than grant a divorce to the non-resident same sex couples. In other words, even though the District may grant a divorce to a non-resident same-sex couple, it is unclear whether the Court has the authority to adjudicate issues of alimony and property distribution.
Same-sex couples who reside in the District can also be divorced in the District, with identical rights and responsibilities afforded to heterosexual couples residing here.