Impact of DOMA ruling on same-sex divorce in Massachusetts

A portion of The Defense of Marriage Act, also referred to as DOMA, was recently dissolved by the Supreme Court of the United States. Although the ruling lead to celebrations throughout the country and was viewed as a triumph in the battle for equal rights for same-sex couples, it has also left a growing number of questions in its wake.

One of the largest questions same-sex couples are asking is how this ruling will impact same-sex divorce.

Background of the case

The Supreme Court had a variety of cases it could have chosen to address the DOMA issue and chose to hear United States v. Windsor. The case challenges Section 3 of DOMA, a provision that applies to federal provisions and defines the word "marriage" to specifically refer to the union between a man and a woman.

The case was brought after Mrs. Edith Windsor's wife Thea Spyer passed away and left her entire estate to Mrs. Windsor. Mrs. Windsor was barred from the surviving spouse exemption, which would exempt her from hundreds of thousands of dollars in estate taxes. The Internal Revenue Service denied her request for a refund of the $363,053 Mrs. Windsor paid in estate taxes, noting that she did not qualify based on the definition of marriage as defined within DOMA. The Court heard Mrs. Windsor's case and ultimately held in her favor, striking DOMA's exclusionary definition.

Impact on Massachusetts same-sex divorce

The ruling allows same-sex couples to receive federal benefits available to heterosexual couples, such as the spousal exemption for estate tax purposes. The ruling will also extend to cover same-sex couples going through divorce. This can ease the divorce proceeding process for same-sex couples, particularly those who are married and divorced in a state the recognizes same-sex marriage.

Massachusetts is one such state. In addition to finding the support of state law in their union, these couples can also find support when the relationship falters. Because of the Court's holding in U.S. v. Windsor, these couples can now qualify for exemptions from state gift taxes or inheritance taxes when attempting to divide their assets during the property division portion of a divorce proceeding.

Legal counsel when seeking a same-sex divorce

Although the divorce process for same-sex couples may now be easier than it once was, navigating through the legal issues that can arise during a separation is still difficult. As a result, those seeking a divorce should contact an experienced same-sex divorce attorney to help better ensure their legal rights are protected.