In the United States, legislators and judges at the state level have jurisdiction over matters relating to divorce, marriage, and alimony. Most matters of this type are heard in family court in the appropriate state. For this reason, the policy of whether same-sex partners are able to legally marry or have their relationship formally recognized varies from region to region.
Divorce, Marriage, and Alimony in Massachusetts
According to Chapter III, Article V of the Massachusetts Constitution, "All causes of marriage, divorce, and alimony...shall be heard and determined by the governor and council, until the legislature shall, by law, make other provision." On November 18, 2003, the Supreme Court brought down a ruling that the common-law definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman was unconstitutional.
New Definition of Marriage
The Court found that the definition of marriage should be extended to include homosexual couples. A new definition for the institution of marriage was adopted. Under the direction of the Court, marriage was defined as ""the voluntary union of two persons as spouses, to the exclusion of all others."
Since May of 2004, same-sex partners have had the right to be legally married in Massachusetts. By the end of that year, the first gay divorce case was filed with court officials. At that point, the homosexual couples were having to use divorce forms that still included the terms husband and wife to refer to the parties. The subject of one former spouse paying alimony to the other must to be addressed by the courts.
With matters relating to divorce, marriage, and alimony being addressed at the state level, the question of what happens when a same-sex couple who live elsewhere want to get divorced is an interesting one. While a homosexual couple are free to marry in Massachusetts, unless they reside in the state, they are unable to start divorce proceedings there.
Gay Divorce in Rhode Island
In January of 2007, the Supreme Court of Rhode Island was asked to rule on this issue. A lesbian couple filed a case for divorce in that state. While Rhode Island does not recognize same-sex marriage, it has no specific law barring homosexuals from marrying. The couple married in Massachusetts but were unable to file a case for divorce there since they never lived in that state.
The judge in the case asked for more information about whether the couple had a valid marriage license, where they lived at the time the license was issued, and whether the plaintiff met Rhode Island's residency requirement in order have a case for divorce heard. Lawyers for both sides pointed out that even if the couple is allowed to divorce in Rhode Island, this does not pave the way for same-sex marriage in the state. They compared the situation to a couple who married in another jurisdiction filing for divorce where they currently reside.
Legal issues relating to marriage, divorce, and alimony can be complicated in the case of a man and a woman divorcing. When the two partners happen to be of the same gender, then issues with respect to divorce, marriage, and alimony are even more complicated.