New York Gay Couples Rush to Marry, Perhaps Divorce

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Gay Divorce Is Complicated by 'Mini DOMA' States

When gay unions do fail, there are a host of other complications because same-sex marriage is only legal in seven states and the District of Columbia. Many other states have adopted "mini DOMA" laws resembling the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between only a man and a woman.

Courts in Rhode Island and judges in Oklahoma and Texas have refused to grant divorces to gay couples who were legally married elsewhere. The presumption is the marriage never occurred in the first place.

One New Yorker, Karen Hartman, wrote about living in seven years of "legal limbo" trying to get her 2000 civil union in Vermont dissolved because of a one-year-residency requirement in that state.

For those who will flock to New York now to marry, they may face similar obstacles because a one-year residence requirement applies before divorce can be legally granted.

Under New York law, divorces for same-sex couples are treated the same way as those for heterosexual ones, according to Peggy Brady, a New York City attorney who deals in family law, especially among the gay and lesbian community. But some issues are still problematic.

"Property distribution starts on the day of marriage," she said. "In a gay relationship, there is a lot of speculation: Will the court take into consideration the pre-marital time period? We have many couples who have been together 10 years, 18 years, 26 years."

New York views any children adopted or born during the marriage as "children of the marriage," and either spouse can be responsible for child support, according to Brady. But spousal support may be viewed differently.

Brady recently handled the case of a lesbian couple with three children, all of whom were adopted by the second parent, who refused to pay palimony.

"The biological mom stayed home to raise the kids," she said. "She is getting child support, but she is not getting support for herself because she is not married."

Brady asked: If they were married, would the courts count the 11 years the biological mother devoted to child care for spousal support?

Brady agreed there are certain to be divorces among same-sex couples.

"Gay people aren't any different from straight people," she said. "But I think people have been waiting a very long time to get married and, in my own experience ... they are doing it softly and there aren't any shotgun weddings."

Still, she is getting lots of calls for prenuptial agreements, mostly from couples who are "mid-career and beyond" who have been in other relationships and perhaps have children and other financial obligations.

"But gay couples over the years have made equitable distributions in significant sums when they had no legal obligation to do so because they thought it was the right thing to do," said Brady.

That sense of fairness is why Kaplan and Cipriano said they didn't feel the need for a pre-nup.

"First of all, we don't own a lot asset-wise," said Kaplan. "And it would never be an issue anyhow because of the people we are. Our values and families are similar."

The process leading to their marriage has also been confusing. When they applied for a marriage license earlier this month, their only choice was "bride" or "groom." Kaplan laughed it off and declared to his betrothed, "You're going to be the bride."

City clerks straightened out the mess within 24 hours by rephrasing personal information categories to "Bride/Groom/Spouse A" and "Bride/Groom/Spouse B."

As a young man, Cipriano was married to a woman, so they had to get all the divorce decree paperwork from the courts so as not to have any legal glitches.

"I am a lawyer, but a part of me is just numb," said Kaplan. "It's exciting, though -- just, wow. I never expected it to happen so quick. So why wait to get married? We have been married."

Both of their families are supportive, but Kaplan, the first-generation son of Polish Jews, said his parents are still "getting used to the concept" of gay marriage and won't be at today's ceremony. Cipriano's mother will attend.

They are beginning to set aside money for a honeymoon and are planning a party with family and friends -- "something not traditional; we're not traditional folks," he said.

As for children, they already discussed that and say "definitely," but perhaps through adoption.

Kaplan said they have an "obligation" to make their marriage work to "show the world" that all same-sex couples are not "dancing with their shirts off at a party in the Hamptons."

"I personally think that gay people will be able to show how marriage works and the reason why you get married," he said. "There are couples who have been together for 30 years and they have weathered so much, the fact that we as a community battled so much as a unit."

Their advice to the hundreds of couples who will marry today: "Just have fun and do it for the right reason," Kaplan said. "That's what we've been fighting for."

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