Same-Sex Divorce & Family Law

Mansfield Same-Sex Divorce Attorneys

Same-Sex Divorce and Family Law in Bristol County

In 2004, a decade before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage across the country, it was already legalized in Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts Commonwealth has been a leading state in the LGBTQ+ rights movement for a significant amount of time. However, that doesn't mean same-sex couples necessarily have it easy when navigating the Commonwealth's legal system. When it comes to issues such as divorce, child custody, and spousal support (alimony), same-sex couples often find themselves faced with unexpected hurdles.

At Ostendorf Law Group, PLLC, our Mansfield same-sex divorce attorneys have a wealth of experience helping LGBTQ+ clients navigate complex legal issues. We'll give your case the one-on-one attention it deserves, developing a legal strategy tailored to your specific situation.

Take the first step. Fill out our contact form online or give us a call at (508) 593-1408 to receive a free consultation from one of our Mansfield same-sex divorce and family law attorneys. 

Same-Sex Divorce in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, same-sex couples go through the same divorce process as heterosexual couples. To learn more about how our firm helps clients through the divorce process, feel free to visit our page on divorce. In general, here are a couple of pointers that may come in handy if you're considering divorce in Massachusetts.

There are three methods of separating from your partner. You can choose to legally separate, void the marriage with an annulment, or file for divorce.

While legal separation isn't technically recognized in Massachusetts, couples who separate can ask a judge for a "judgment of separate support," which acts as a de facto child and spousal support order.

Annulments can void a marriage, but only under certain circumstances. A few grounds for annulment include:

  • Bigamy, in which an individual marries someone while still married to another partner.
  • Incest, in which an individual marries a grandparent, parent, brother, sister, niece, nephew, child, or grandchild.
  • Other violations, such as marrying an individual under the age of 18, or marrying an individual incapable of consenting to marriage due to a lack of mental capacity.

If you're here, you probably decided you want to file for divorce. There are two kinds of divorce:

  • A no-fault divorce, in which spouses simply state "irreconcilable differences" as the impetus for the divorce.
  • A fault-based divorce, in which a spouse alleges that their partner committed an act such as adultery, cruel and abusive treatment, or addiction that is grounds for a divorce.

The primary difference between the two lies in the judgments individuals receive. In a fault-based divorce, the party that alleges fault is more likely to receive a favorable judgment if they can prove their spouse committed an act that qualifies as grounds for divorce in the Commonwealth.

It's also important to note the difference between contested and uncontested divorces. In an uncontested divorce, sometimes called an "amicable divorce," soon-to-be-ex-spouses agree on how the divorce process should be handled. In a contested divorce, the parties disagree on how to handle the divorce. Uncontested divorces are often handled out of court by a mediator and take relatively little time to complete. In contrast, contested divorces may take as long as 15 months to actually complete, and are settled in court by a judgment if an out-of-court settlement cannot be reached.

The divorce process is fairly involved, which is why it's a good idea to hire a family lawyer to help you tackle your divorce. An experienced family lawyer can help you every step of the way, from filing important documents to collecting evidence to negotiating issues such as child custody, child/spousal support, and property division with your ex.

Typically, the divorce process in Massachusetts looks something like this:

  1. Collect and document evidence. It's essential to compile any evidence that may help you during one of the various divorce processes, such as property division or child custody, or collect documentation that supports your decision to divorce your spouse.
  2. File for divorce with a court. Your family lawyer can help you determine what kind of divorce you should file for.
  3. Serve your ex with divorce paperwork. Again, your lawyer can help you serve your spouse either through a sheriff/constable, or a different third-party method.
  4. Negotiate your divorce. Most courts try to avoid making an actual divorce judgment, if possible. As such, you'll probably be referred to a mediator who will help you and your ex (or your attorneys, if you don't want to converse with your ex) draft a divorce arrangement that is mutually beneficial to both parties. This is often a long, drawn-out process, particularly in cases where children are involved, and child custody or support must be determined. This process can also take longer if a couple has valuable shared assets that need to be assessed by a CPA before being divided.
  5. Settle your divorce in or out of court. Most divorces are settled out of court. However, if you and your soon-to-be-ex can't reach an agreement, a judge may settle your divorce for you in court with a judgment.
  6. Receive your divorce decree. Your divorce decree contains provisions for arrangements such as child support, custody, alimony, property division, etc. made during your divorce. If you or your ex experience a change in circumstances, you can file to modify aspects of your divorce decree (for example, if you no longer need child support at some point, you can ask a judge to change your child support order, so your ex doesn't have to pay child support anymore).

Generally, both heterosexual and same-sex couples follow the above divorce pattern. However, same-sex couples can occasionally run into some issues when filing for divorce in a few areas:

  • Asset division. Many courts only consider shared property to be assets acquired during the marriage. For same-sex couples who bought shared property before same-sex marriage was legalized, or who moved to the Commonwealth from a state that legalized same-sex marriage later, this can be an issue. Fortunately, more and more courts are acknowledging assets gained during cohabitation as shared assets, so chances of running into an asset division problem in your divorce are relatively slim.
  • Alimony. The length of the marriage often determines alimony (the longer you're married, the more significant your alimony payments may be). Again, this can cause issues for same-sex couples who have cohabitated longer than same-sex marriage has been legal. Still, more and more courts are recognizing cohabitation as a de facto substitute for same-sex marriage when deciding alimony, so don't worry about it too much. However, it is wise to be aware of potential issues and bring them up with your lawyer proactively.

Mansfield Same-Sex Child Custody Lawyers

Perhaps the most common barrier same-sex couples face when filing for divorce lies in child custody.

In Massachusetts, the biological parent of any children in the relationship takes precedence in custody situations. Obviously, in many same-sex marriages, children are only technically the biological children of one of the parents.

To avoid running into child custody issues in your same-sex divorce, you should ensure that both parents have rights as biological parents. For a non-biological parent to obtain the same rights as a biological parent, they must legally adopt the children.

Making sure the non-biological parent legally adopts the children helps ensure they retain equal rights to the biological parent during the divorce.

Fortunately, more and more courts are recognizing that providing more rights to the biological parent in a same-sex child custody case is problematic. If you're not the biological or adoptive parent of a child or children who you wish to retain joint or sole custody of, work with your family lawyer to explain the situation to the court. More and more courts are receptive to the idea that both parties in a same-sex marriage should have equal parental rights in a child custody battle.

If you need help navigating a same-sex divorce or family law issue, our team is here to help. Not only are our attorneys experienced in family law, but we also offer flat-fee pricing, so you never have to deal with hourly or hidden fees when you work with our firm.

Get the legal counsel you deserve. Contact us online or give us a call at (508) 593-1408 to receive a free consultation from our team. 

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