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Potential Alimony Complications for Same Sex Divorcing Couples in Connecticut

The legalization of marriage between partners of the same sex in Connecticut was a hard-fought battle. Decisions recognizing marriage equality in Connecticut in 2008, and then nationally in 2015, were celebrated across the United States—but didn’t come without some complexities. Many same-sex spouses still face a variety of issues that aren’t a reality in heterosexual marriages, and the same extends to the divorce.

From a legal standpoint, divorce between spouses of the same sex shares many similarities with divorce between spouses of opposite sex. Unfortunately, this isn’t always a good thing. To date, laws have not evolved to account for some of the unique challenges faced by same-sex couples. As a result, it’s possible that a court might miss the mark when trying to resolve matters like alimony in a same-sex divorce.

To recognize how alimony may be an issue for same-sex divorcees, it’s important to understand how it’s typically handled in Connecticut courts. When one spouse is able to pay and the other has a financial need, the courts will generally consider awarding alimony. It’s often awarded in marriages where one spouse had a much larger income or acted as the primary “breadwinner.” Judges may award either temporary or permanent alimony once the divorce is final, as well as temporary alimony during the divorce proceedings. The court must consider a wide range of factors before making a decision, such as each spouse’s age and health, occupation and income, and any existing child support awards or payments.

Where do the problems begin? For one, the length of the marriage is an important factor in alimony awards and calculations. Many courts tend to favor marriages of over 10 years in matters of alimony. Of course, while same-sex marriage was legalized nationally in 2015, many couples have been together for much longer. For example, let’s say a couple has been together for 30 years, and they married immediately at the end of 2008. If they divorced in 2017, the courts may treat them as if they were married only 9 years—even though they’ve been sharing property and assets, raising children, and making important mutual decisions together for much longer.

In scenarios like this one, Connecticut law may not take the couple’s entire relationship into account, which can skew the alimony decisions. An ex-spouse in financial need, who has relied on their spouse’s income for so many years, may miss out on an important alimony award because the legal marriage period fell short of the favorable amount of time to be married.

Only a few years ago, same-sex couples faced a litany of challenges with taxes, Social Security, pensions, and more. While many of these problems have been mostly resolved, same-sex couples may still have to deal with legal issues or gray areas when it comes to property division in a divorce. Compounding this problem, a judge will also consider each spouse’s estate, or the assets and property they own, when calculating alimony. It can be even more difficult to make calculations without a clear delineation of who owns what.

Until the Connecticut courts see some meaningful changes in divorce law, same-sex couples may benefit from a less combative form of divorce. Mediation, arbitration, and collaborative divorce may be better suited to help you settle your divorce issues outside of the courtroom. These methods allow you to work more closely with your former spouse in varying degrees, and may create the opportunity for more favorable compromises when it comes to matters like alimony, property division, and child support. Of course, litigation may still be the preferred option for some couples.  

If you are considering marriage or divorce as a same-sex couple, you should take advantage of the legal knowledge and experience available to you.  At Freed Marcroft, we help you navigate the your concerns with compassion. Please contact us to explore the possibilities of prenuptial agreements, collaborative divorce, and other legal tools that can help ensure that your divorce is reflective of your relationship.