New York laws are relatively clear about the standards and procedures for marriage and divorce, including issues of child custody, property division and spousal support. However, same-sex divorce issues and domestic partnership dissolutions are not always so clear, because this is a relatively new area of law. New York couples can choose to marry or form a domestic partnership, and the dissolution procedures for each are very different.
Marriage Vs. Domestic Partnership
New York law began allowing same-sex couples to marry on July 24, 2011, and the marriage process for these same-sex couples is the same as that of married couples. Those who wish to marry must obtain a marriage license, wait 24 hours and marry in the state. Once married, couples have all the legal benefits and obligations as any married couple. New York allows couples in a close and committed personal relationship to legally register as domestic partners. Domestic partnership provides access to some but not all of the benefits of marriage, such as sharing health insurance or other employee benefits. Registering as domestic partners requires completing an application and paying a filing fee.
Divorce only applies to marriage, not domestic partnership, since divorce breaks the marriage bond. Some same-sex divorces have raised interesting legal issues. For example, New York allows couples to marry in the state even though they don’t live there, but these couples may find it impossible to divorce in their home state if their home state does not recognize the marriage. Generally, all couples who live in New York follow the same divorce laws, but because federal laws do not recognize same-sex marriages, federal benefits and tax consequences may be different for same-sex couples.
Dissolving a Partnership
Domestic partnerships are much easier to dissolve than marriages. Domestic partnerships can be terminated by either partner at any time by filing a termination statement in person at the city or county office in which the couple registered their partnership. The termination statement simply says that the partnership is terminated and the partners are no longer partners. In some places, like Westchester County, a partner can even file the termination statement by mail if it has been properly completed and notarized. Partners in New York City can also file by mail, but only if they can present a convincing argument about why they cannot file in person.
Resolving Partnership Issues
Though filing a termination statement allows domestic partners to break their legal bond, it will leave open many of the myriad issues that are resolved by a typical divorce. The termination statement does not address shared property, child custody or other common divorce topics. Partners who have been together a long time and have combined their finances and families may find domestic partnership dissolution trickier than divorce because there are few clear-cut laws and procedures to help them. For example, partners who own a home together cannot rely on a divorce court to decide the fate of that asset. Similarly, partners who have a child together will have to file a separate child custody case to acquire a court-ordered custody arrangement.