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Untangling Your Finances in a Divorce

Same-sex couples face new issues thanks to marriage equality.

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While many relationships start out in a state of pure bliss, over time, as is often said, the honeymoon comes to an end.

If you are going through a divorce, there are some things  you’ll need to know about untangling your finances as you and your partner go your separate ways. 

Now that same-sex marriage is legally recognized under state and federal law, gay spouses can run into the same issues that opposite-sex couples face.

There are a long list of factors to consider when divorcing—everything from who gets parental rights to how property and other assets are divvied up. As you try to come to an agreement with your former spouse, there are a host of legal issues that can come into play.

One of the biggest factors is when the marriage took place. This can have an impact on how assets are divided, as well as other decisions such as whether someone will receive alimony. For instance, the longer the marriage lasted, the more weight it carries when a judge is determining how—or if—a non-earning or lower-earning spouse will receive financial support.

Unfortunately, because some states, including Texas, have only recognized same-sex marriages since 2015, even if you’ve spent 20 or more years with your partner, the actual length of the relationship could be a moot point.

The same holds true when it comes to child-custody arrangements, if applicable. In this case, there are many criteria that can be considered, such as whether a child was adopted. And even if both spouses have shared equally in raising a child (or children), it is possible that the “non-legal” parent will no longer be allowed to continue a relationship with them.

While divorce laws vary by state, there are some basic common factors that guide a court’s approach to financial decision-making during a divorce—whether it pertains to same-sex or opposite-sex marriages. In addition to how long the marriage lasted, these criteria will typically include how each of the spouses contributed financially to each other (and to their family, if applicable), and what property is considered to be either separate or “co-mingled.”

Likewise, if any type of estate planning has been put in place to facilitate the transfer of wealth between partners, this, too, could be understood as a “statement of intent” when spouses are dividing marital property in a divorce.

In some cases, same-sex couples may have a partnership agreement in place that was drafted prior to their legally recognized marriage. In this instance, if the couple later gets divorced, financial matters and other issues may need to be dissolved in the same type of proceeding.

According to one Texas divorce attorney, many same-sex couples in the Lone Star State can benefit from the creation of a domestic partnership agreement. This is because courts will tend to look at such agreements when resolving disputes, determining the status of beneficiaries, and other key items.

Another legal arrangement often used by same-sex couples is the cohabitation agreement. This is considered similar in many ways to a prenuptial agreement, except that it is for couples who choose not to get married. This type of agreement can address a number of important issues, such as the division of property upon separation, as well as post-relationship financial-support obligations.

Going through a divorce can be difficult. But just like with other tough situations, it is beneficial to look forward and plan ahead. One of the top priorities here can be to put an updated financial plan in place that reflects your current situation as well as your future goals.

When doing so, it can be advantageous to work with a financial professional who is not only knowledgeable in financial planning, but also someone who has experience working in the LGBTQ community. That way, you can be assured that your advisor is up to date regarding same-sex marriage laws and other key factors.

This article appears in the July 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine. 

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Grace S. Yung

Grace S. Yung, CFP, is a certified financial planner practitioner with experience in helping domestic partners plan their finances since 1994. She is a principal at Midtown Financial LLC in Houston and was recognized as a “Five-Star Wealth Manager” in the September 2017 issue of Texas Monthly.
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