West Chester, PA 19380
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Lee Ciccarelli is the founder and managing partner of Ciccarelli Law Offices with over two decades experience as a practicing attorney.
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Until recently, same-sex couples legally joined in other states were locked into their marriages in Pennsylvania. The Commonwealth did not recognize their marriage, so they were unable to obtain a divorce in Chester County courts. It was a cruel and unfair situation for these couples: Stuck in a marriage they did not even want to be in because of state-sanctioned bigotry against that very marriage.
Thankfully, a cascade of legal action from 2013 to 2015 ended that. A federal court case in 2014 struck down Pennsylvania's marriage ban. The Commonwealth ceased defending its position and recognized the same-sex marriages of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. The historic 2015 Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges cemented this constitutional principle. All couples have a right to marry in Pennsylvania now - and a right to divorce if that marriage doesn't work out.
While we celebrate the right to marry, it is important to understand that marriages do not always last. If you are part of a same-sex marriage and no longer wish to be in that marriage, you have a right to seek a divorce under Pennsylvania law. This includes if you were married in another state prior to 2014 and are now a resident of Chester County or the surrounding area.
At Ciccarelli Law Offices, our West Chester divorce lawyers understand that equality was hard-won for Pennsylvania's LGBT community. But equality means that when same-sex couples cannot resolve their issues, they have the same way out as any other married people.
Contact us today at (877) 529-2422 to set up a consultation. Based in West Chester, we represent LGBT people throughout Chester County, Delaware County, Montgomery County, Lancaster County, Philadelphia, and Southeastern Pennsylvania.
Same-sex marriage became legal in Pennsylvania in May 2014 when a U.S. federal district court judge ruled the 1996 statutory ban on recognizing same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. The state had prohibited same-sex marriage in the state and refused to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
The state has never recognized civil unions or domestic partnerships. However, Governor Tom Corbett announced the day after the ruling he would not appeal Judge John E. Jones' decision, effectively making Pennsylvania the 19th state to recognize same-sex marriage. It was the last state in the Northeast region to recognize same-sex marriage.
On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges. Written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the opinion found that same-sex couples have a right to marry under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.
The Pennsylvania case that essentially made same-sex marriage into law does not reference civil unions or domestic partnerships. Therefore, it is unclear if the state will recognize those statuses. To have the rights of married couples, same-sex partners likely would have to marry.
The federal government does not recognize civil unions or domestic partnerships as the equivalent of marriage for federal tax purposes. Couples still would need to get married in order to file your taxes as "married." In addition, a couple would have to be legally married to file for divorce.
A marriage between same-sex partners is no different from a traditional marriage in Pennsylvania. Divorcing same-sex couples now have access to the Pennsylvania courts just as opposite-sex couples, with the same rights and obligations under the Pennsylvania law, including filing for divorce.
Same-sex couples must file for a divorce to terminate the marriage and all property rights, including equitable distribution of marital property and alimony. Spouses also may be forced to support the other spouse during a period of separation and may be responsible for debts incurred by the spouse during the marriage.
The process of filing for a divorce is the same. To divorce in Pennsylvania, one of the spouses must have lived in the state for at least six months prior to the date of the filing. You also must file in the appropriate county.
Same-sex couples have the opportunity to file for different kinds of divorces, including:
At-fault divorce — To obtain an at-fault divorce, or a contested divorce, the filing spouse must make one of several allegations that his or her spouse committed a certain bad act or mistreated him or her in some way. For example, if a spouse committed adultery or domestic violence, the other could file for an at-fault divorce.
No-fault divorce — A no-fault divorce, often called an uncontested or simple divorce, typically is the easiest and least expensive way to end a marriage. If both parties in the marriage want a divorce, they can file and then both file an affidavit saying they give mutual consent for the termination. After 90 days from the date of filing, the court may then grant the decree. No hearing is required.
Collaborative divorce — This process is known as a friendly divorce. The two parties agree to the marriage termination, and then the spouses and their attorneys negotiate out a settlement with how they will divide their assets. There is no trial or hearing to attend.
If you have decided to end your marriage, or if you are responding to actions initiated by your spouse, you will need someone with experience and understanding to guide you through this difficult situation. The attorneys at Ciccarelli Law Offices are dedicated to helping you through this transition. Call (877) 529-2422 to schedule a consultation.
Updated June 29, 2015.