Same-sex marriages have been legal in Pennsylvania since 2014. In May of that year, a Pennsylvania federal judge ruled that a 1996 statute that banned the practice was unconstitutional and overturned it. Of course, as with a traditional marriage, problems can arise that may cause one or both parties to want to end the relationship. LGBT partners have the right to seek a divorce, which can pose the same issues that any heterosexual couple may face, including spousal support, child custody and the division of property and assets.
The Same-Sex Divorce Process
The process of obtaining a divorce in PA is the same for all married couples, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. The grounds for same-sex divorce are:
- At-fault: Also known as a contested divorce, this issue occurs when one spouse makes allegations against the other regarding things like adultery, bigamy, willful and malicious desertion, endangering life and making life “intolerable,” or when one spouse receives a prison term of at least two years. At-fault divorces are uncommon in Pennsylvania as most parties proceed under the no-fault provisions of the divorce code.
- No-fault: A no-fault, or uncontested, divorce occurs when both parties consent to the termination of the marriage. The court can grant the decree after 90 days from the service date of the divorce complaint without a hearing as long as both parties sign off on the paperwork.
- Collaborative: This “friendly” same-sex divorce process occurs when both spouses agree to end the marriage and reach an amicable arrangement regarding the division of assets.
Child Custody for Same-Sex Parents
The custody of children is often the most acrimonious issue in any divorce proceeding, including with same-sex families. It’s also somewhat murkier from a legal perspective regarding LGBT couples. In some cases, same-sex partners adopt children — because neither individual is a biological parent, both could have equal rights under PA custody laws.
However, when one of the partners (but not the other) is the child’s biological parent, that person may have a stronger legal standing regarding child custody rights unless the child was adopted by the non-biological parent. In some cases, the non-biological parent will need to prove that he or she has a “significant connection” to the child. The court will review factors such as:
- Relationship of the child and partner
- Length of the couple’s relationship and whether they live together with the child
- Maturity of the couple
- Intentions of the partners and what steps were taken to engage in joint parenting
- Existence of co-parenting agreements or other documents concerning the child that list both individuals as parents
Child Support for Same-Sex Couples
Providing financial support for children is another complex issue in the wake of a same-sex divorce. In PA, when both parents adopt the child, the payment arrangement would follow the standard child support guidelines. However, if only one parent has adopted the child, the other is not required to pay support except under specific circumstances. In situations where a non-biological and non-adoptive relationship exists, it is often left to the court to determine the appropriate support arrangement.
Spousal Support and Alimony
Spousal support is an area where the courts have some latitude when determining whether and how much same-sex partners should receive after a divorce. In general, spousal support is determined by a formula established by law, although there are certainly deviations from the formula that may occur if one spouse is paying expenses on behalf of the other spouse.
Choose MPL Law Firm as Your Same-Sex Divorce Lawyers in PA
MPL Law Firm understands the unique challenges that same-sex couples face in a divorce. We’ll take the time to listen and determine what you hope to achieve, then establish a path that will lead to the most successful outcome. Contact us to learn more about the same-sex divorce process in PA or to schedule a consultation.