Marriage & Divorce Equality

Marriage & Divorce EqualityMarriage and Divorce Equality in NY

The Marriage Equality Act, passed by New York in the summer of 2011, granted the rights of same-sex couples to be married in the state. That right included the same applicable matrimonial laws and obligations accorded to opposite sex couples. Divorce and family law attorney Ingrid Gherman, whose practice has a long-standing history of working with clients in same sex relationships, has closely followed all the changing matrimonial laws in the state and nationally pertaining to same gender couples. If you are in a same sex relationship and have questions about marriage, divorce, or other family-related legal issues, contact Ingrid’s office at (212) 941-0767 or send the convenient on-line form.

Rights That Come With Marriage

One or both parties to a marriage may elect to change their surname after the marriage by entering the new name on the marriage license. The marriage certificate, containing the new name, if any, is proof that the use of the new name, or the retention of the former name, is lawful.

Once legally married, each spouse has all the rights that New York law provides to a spouse, including without limitation: the right to inherit even in the absence of a will; the right to sue for wrongful death; and the spousal privilege against being compelled to testify against your spouse. Spouses also have legal obligations to each other, including a duty to support the other spouse.

Obligations That Come With Divorce

Upon a divorce in NY, a spouse may have a duty to pay spousal support and maintenance (formerly called alimony) to the other spouse. Property obtained during the marriage, regardless of whose name it is in, will be divided equitably. All debt accrued during the marriage, regardless of whose name the debt is in, will be allocated equitably by the Court, usually in the same proportion as the assets are divided. However, if one spouse incurs debt during the marriage for clearly non-marital purposes, he/she will generally be responsible for that debt.

During the marriage, a spouse is generally not responsible for debts of the other spouse that were incurred prior to the marriage; nor is a spouse responsible for debts incurred solely by the other spouse. However, creditors of the debtor spouse may try to collect the debt by levying upon jointly owned accounts or property. There are significant tax and other financial implications that arise from a marriage.

Legal Rights and Duties of Married People

According to a report by the Empire State Pride Agenda Foundation and the New York City Bar Association there are 1,324 statutes and regulations in New York State that confer legal rights and duties to married people.

Some examples of the significant benefits conferred only to married individuals include:

  • The right to be prioritized over children, parents, siblings, and close friends, when making health care decisions on behalf of the spouse when the latter is incapable.
  • The right to automatically hold real estate as tenants by the entirety, with a right of survivorship (title is transferred to him or her) if one spouse passes away.
  • Protection against being disinherited by one’s spouse, and the right to elect to take a share of a deceased spouse’s estate against the decedent estate’s wishes. The right for a child born to a married couple by artificial insemination to be deemed the legitimate and natural child of the husband and wife for all purposes, including custody, visitation rights, and child support.
  • The right to attend New York community colleges at the same tuition rate as New York residents, as the spouse of a military service member.
  • The right not to be required to testify in court about confidential communications with his or her spouse during marriage.
  • The right to require a spouse to continue supporting his or her ex-spouse after divorce, if without such support the recipient spouse would be otherwise incapable of self-support and therefore likely to become a public charge.

The above information is based on New York State law; it is intended to inform, not to advise. No one should attempt to interpret or apply any law without the help of an attorney and a tax professional. Someone who can provide that help is matrimonial lawyer Ingrid Gherman, who can share a knowledge of these laws in over 30 years of practice. To speak to Ingrid, contact her office to arrange a consultation at (212) 941-0767 or send the on-line form.