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Divorce lawyers in Salt Lake City ponder legality of controversial same-sex marriage statutes

January 2, 2014

Much of the recent buzz around Salt Lake City, and indeed Utah, has been the legality of the somewhat controversial same sex-marriage statutes. One aspect of the law that isn’t debated, or even discussed often, is the end of a same-sex marriage.  Divorce attorneys in Utah can begin to prepare for some changes in their practice, with same-sex divorces on the rise. KSL’s report on one couple whose separation has been longstanding, and whose divorce can now be finalized, provides an interesting perspective.

Salt Lake City’s divorce and family attorneys are apt to find cases similar to this one: the couple was married in Connecticut in 2010, but shortly thereafter determined that the marriage was not sustainable. When one party moved back home to Utah (she was a 14-year legal Utah resident) after leaving a shared residence in Connecticut, she found that she had no legal grounds to pursue divorce in Utah. Salt Lake City divorce attorneys couldn’t help, either. With no legal precedent for same-sex marriage in the state, the couple was forced to remain legally married while separated. Utah divorce attorneys told her what they told other same-sex couples seeking dissolution of their marriages: they would have to move to the state in which the marriage was recognized, establish residency for as long as a year and then file for divorce. Such a process is undoubtedly disruptive, and for most people, cost prohibitive. “Legal limbo” is the phrase one local Salt Lake City divorce attorney coined for this situation, with couples unable to pursue their right to legally finalize an end to a relationship that no longer reflected their lifestyle.

Federal Judge Robert Shelby’s ruling that Utah’s ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional could have provided avenues of opportunity for many same-sex couples seeking divorce in addition to marriage but things at this point are somewhat unclear as the U.S. Supreme Court issued a temporary stay, blocking further marriages while the issue is considered by a federal appeals court. Many of Utah’s courts saw a flurry of activity, as nearly 1,0000 newlywed gay and lesbian couples stormed the system to obtain marriage licenses since the Shelby’s December 20 ruling was made official. Shelby’s reflection of his decision was that Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage denied couples “their fundamental right to marry,” an outlook that clashes with many in the state who want marriage to maintain its religious connotations, privileges and restrictions.

While many who hold the viewpoint that same-sex couples shouldn’t be allowed to marry cite religious codes as the source of value conflicts, divorce has also long been looked upon by religious and social conservatives as improper. Who knows how many of these defenders of traditional marriage feel similarly about same-sex divorce – as it’s an issue that hasn’t been central to the whole debate. Utah divorce attorneys, however, should saddle up, so to speak, as same-sex couples prepare to unite and dissolve their households, as life may have it.

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