The last several years have allowed me the privilege to work on many types of Collaborative divorce cases, but I was particularly enthusiastic when I was asked to join the team on a same-sex collaborative divorce case last year. My goal as a financial neutral is to be consistently learning and growing. The United States Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states in June 2015. But, until early 2021, I had not encountered a same-sex divorce case inclined to go Collaborative. This would be new territory for me to explore and add to my experience.
Same-Sex Collaborative Divorce: What Might Be Different?
There would be issues same-sex couples needed addressed that differed from a traditional marriage dissolving. There could be custody issues for the non-biological parent or spousal support disputes for the non-earning or lower wage-earning spouse due to years of support before the state recognizing the marriage. Could there be special issues about premarital versus marital property? Many same-sex couples cohabitated for years before 2015. Might one spouse get credit for premarital assets when the couple was in a supportive relationship, but not legally married?
Every potential issue ran through my mind before meeting the clients and having our first team meeting. This seasoned financial neutral was prepared for any conceivable twist or turn.
How the Collaborative Process Unfolded: Familiar Territory
I met with each spouse separately to gather data and information and prepare for our first team meeting. Each individual meeting felt as familiar as meetings in any other collaborative divorce. The issues were surprisingly similar to those in the opposite-sex divorces on which I had worked.
For example, there was a more financially savvy spouse and a “non-financial” spouse. One spouse worked outside the home; the other was a homemaker who worked as hard to make the house a home. The collaborative team encountered, and the couple developed options for handling and resolved, issues about premarital assets. Likewise, the couple identified support needs, developed options, and resolved spousal support issues. Their parenting plan was unique. One parent was Canadian and traveled frequently outside the United States. But, with the neutral collaborative mental health professional’s guidance, the parents figured out how to handle those issues, too.
As the team worked through meetings, I concluded this case was really no different from any other case. The clients had the same issues any opposite-sex couple going through a divorce might have.
Same-Sex Collaborative Divorce: Same Collaborative Service
Experience tells me not to be naïve, because there are potential issues that may differ in same-sex divorces. Articles abound on the internet exploring nuances of same-sex divorces and cautioning about pitfalls. However, in the matter on which I served as the same-sex couple’s collaborative financial neutral, my experience allowed me to serve them and the team as I would have served opposite-sex couples in any other collaborative case. Gay couples are no different than heterosexual couples going through a divorce. That is progress!