(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Same-sex couples are flocking to courthouses and churches across the nation to tie the knot now that same-sex marriage is recognized across all 50 states, and that’s great, according to one local attorney, but there is a less happy side to marriage these couples need to think about: divorce.
Connie Thacker, attorney at Miller Johnson, has handled enough divorces for opposite-sex couples to know that, most likely, the rate of divorce will be just as high for same-sex couples.
“Keep in mind, 52 percent of all first marriages end in divorce, 65 percent of all second marriages — and third marriages, the rate is even higher,” Thacker said.
Her message, which opposite-sex couples should think about too, is: “Marry responsibly.”
“It’s great that we have the benefit, don’t get me wrong. It’s fabulous, but with the benefit comes restrictions, and divorce is the big restriction that is out there,” Thacker said. “A lot of people cross that threshold into marriage without thinking about the logical consequences. We’ve spent our entire lives not being part of the divorce community and now, overnight, we are in it.”
She said marriage means potentially welcoming the court system into many avenues of a person’s life — child support, spousal support, attorney fees, division of property and claims of inheritance, to name a few.
Thacker advises couples who are getting married to think seriously about signing a prenuptial agreement.
“If you have one, you might survive; if you don’t have one, you won’t survive,” she said. “We do pre-nups for heterosexual couples all the time. People really need to do that.”
She noted when someone owns a business and gets married, they are vulnerable to losing that business in the divorce.
“People still think, ‘It’s my business so I get it.’ That is not how it works anymore,” Thacker said.
“If you have a family business that you own an interest in and the stock value goes up during the marriage, you could have a claim that they have a right to part of the appreciation.”
Couples also need to think about how children or future children will be impacted in case of divorce, she said.
“We have people who didn’t do second-parent adoptions. Now, with these adoptions, you are the adoptive parent and you are going to be subject to custody, parenting time, child support and the 100-mile rule, which means neither parent can move from the custodial location at the time the complaint is filed unless you live more than 100 miles away from each other when you file the complaint for divorce,” she explained.
Debt is another issue couples need to think about when getting married.
“What happens in a lot of cases is people get married and, three or four years later, they say, ‘Well, I’m not responsible for that debt you created. It’s not marital debt; you brought it into the marriage when we got married.’
“The argument always is, ‘I paid it off and then we added to it during the marriage.’ Now it’s all comingled as a marital debt, or asset, and now it’s part of the marital estate and subject to division.”
There is also the cost of divorce, which Thacker said averages around $15,000 for a couple without children and with basic items to divide.
Thacker said there are all sorts of things to think about that same-sex couples did not have the opportunity to worry about before, and now they need to take stock and protect themselves in case the marriage doesn’t work out.
She advises couples not to rush into marriage just because they can, but to really look at their relationship and be sure getting married is a good idea.
“Make sure you are in a good relationship,” she said. “Maybe it’s doing some premarital counseling … and making sure you are both in a healthy place and in a good, loving, committed relationship.
“It goes back to basic relationship stuff, and not a lot of people’s relationships meet that threshold. That’s why they end up in my office.
“If there is any hesitation, don’t say, ‘I do.’”