The Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, guarantees that same sex couples have the right to marry and the right to recognition of their marriages throughout the United States. More and more gay and lesbian couples are getting married… and with marriage, comes divorce.

Since same-sex marriage is relatively new, same-sex divorce is also just evolving. There is little research on the topic, but one statistic published says that there are about half the number of same sex divorces as compared to opposite sex divorces. I suspect that is because many of the same sex couples who married are long term stable couples that have been together for many years. When newer gay couples marry (1-2 year relationships), my guess is that the divorce rate will be similar to straight divorces. In 2014, the divorce rates of same sex couples are closer to those in heterosexual marriages.

So, how is a gay divorce different from a straight divorce? One major difference is that some same sex couples who divorce have been married for a short time but have been together for many years prior to their marriage. This could make it challenging to determine how assets get distributed in those situations. And if there are children, there may be complications. Queer families take many forms and sometimes there are more than two co-parents. Creating a parenting plan that honors the children’s relationship to each parent can be difficult.

There are also some emotional and social differences that are worth noting. The main difference is that being LGBTQI is still “other” in much of our society. For example, how much of a support system does the divorcing couple have? Are their family and friends supportive? Are they “out” at work? Do they have children? What are the expectations of the parents? There is frequently a level of jealousy and competition between same sex parents in a way that is absent in heterosexual relationships. It is common in same sex relationships, especially with women, to remain close friends with one another after divorce, which is generally not the case in the straight world. This can lead to many issues in new relationships.

Recognizing the differences, it can be very helpful for same-sex couples to work with professionals who can understand their situations, both from a professional as a well as a personal perspective.

Barbara Rothberg