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MARCH’S FOCUS: LGBTQ RIGHTS ISSUES IN MISSOURI

March 1st, 2017 by Marta J. Papa

PART ONE – I spent January focusing upon the five types of divorce and the distinctions among them. Whatever divorce scenario couples find themselves in, the benefit of legal counsel often becomes a necessity. Any reputable attorney will have the client’s best interest foremost in mind. For most couples, that means finding the legal assistance they require for the most cost efficient and time effective method of divorce necessary. Fortunately, most couples accomplish their goal of marital dissolution with the fairest distribution of property between them and the proper attention to childrearing needs. They are mature enough to dialogue, willing to negotiate, and able to accomplish a great deal in a reasonable amount of time. And, then, proceed to another life chapter of their lives…intact.

This month I want specifically to address the LGBTQ community in Missouri. On 26 June 2015, the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges invalidated the denial of marriage rights to same sex couples. On July 7, 2015, Governor Jay Nixon issued an executive order directing all Missouri state agencies to comply with that ruling (see freedomforallamericans.org for more information). Clearly, the LGBTQ community in Missouri has earned some crucial marital rights in the state!

For long-time couples who had longed—sometimes for decades—for the law to recognize their proven, wholehearted commitment, this was a dream come true at last. For younger couples, caught up in the limitless possibilities of new love, the dawn of this new era so mirrored their own emotions that binding themselves legally before the world was a gesture emotionally and historically irresistible.

Yet, with this advancement in marital rights has come some of the same thorny issues inherent in any legal marital union: the possibility of a divorce. And I cannot help but think that, generally as a group, the LGBTQ community has been particularly uninformed to the profound legal implications of marriage. Quite understandably, the legal landscape of marital/divorce issues are new terrain for them to negotiate. Yet, knowing the law is essential for each party’s well-being, empowerment, and protection as they proceed to legalize their union. (For a current discussion of LGBTQ community issues, see Could Upcoming Events in 2017 Spell Disaster For The LGBTQ Community, Huffpost.com, 17 January 2017.)

For example, the law now regards all property and income acquired after the marriage by same-sex spouses as jointly and equally owned. Fifty percent of all the money earned and 50 percent of everything purchased belongs to each partner. In the event of a divorce, any spouse’s prior property or funds that have been co-mingled with marital funds are considered jointly owned and, therefore, would be equitably divided. Missouri is an “equitable distribution” state, which means judges will divide marital property in a way they believe is equitable (fair), but not necessarily equal. If, however, the property or funds owned prior to the marriage are kept separate from marital accounts, they remain separately owned and are not divided between spouses at the time of divorce.

Therefore, when same-sex couples divorce, the law looks at them in exactly the same way it regards heterosexual couples. But remember, the laws concerning property division, like other aspects of family law, can vary from state to state…and sometimes even from jurisdiction within a state.

And, I cannot emphasize enough, time spent in advance with knowledgeable legal counsel before entering a binding legal contract (i.e. marriage) can save you enormous mental/emotional/financial duress in the event of a marital dissolution. Thus, be informed and be proactive in order to protect yourself…and those you love!