Legislation that would make it easier — and less expensive — for same-sex domestic partners and married couples to split up has cleared the state Assembly and is now heading to the Senate. Currently, couples who had registered as domestic partners and later married have to go through separate processes to dissolve each agreement. The new law would allow for one process to handle both matters.
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California’s same-sex domestic partners and married couples seeking breakups should find those processes simpler if the Separation Equity Act bill  that passed in the state Assembly on Thursday passes the Senate as well.
Some couples are united as domestic partners and as legally married spouses. That is because many domestic partners chose to marry each other when the option became legally available to them. But current divorce law requires them to dissolve each of the unions separately.
According to proponents of the bill, couples who represent themselves in their divorce might not be aware that both processes have to be completed. They are also required to pay a separate fee for each.
How did California end up with couples caught in this bizarre situation? The state of California, which started performing same-sex marriages in 2008, halted them following the passage, later that year, of Proposition 8. Proposition 8 established a statewide ban on same-sex marriage. Opponents appealed the proposition to the state Supreme Court, arguing that the measure infringed on the constitutional rights of other same-sex couples who wanted to marry but could not.
The court ruled in 2009 that Proposition 8 would remain in effect, preventing additional same-sex marriages from taking place, but not reversing the legally recognized same-sex marriages that had already taken place.
Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, introduced the Separation Equality Act, AB 2700, sponsored by Equality California and the Conference of California Bar Associations. The bill consolidates the two processes and fees into one for divorcing same-sex spouses and domestic partners. Its other stated goal is to establish language clarifying that same-sex partners married outside of California are able to dissolve their marriages in California.
Many same-sex couples trying to divorce or dissolve their relationships in California would still face a host of other complications, even with the passage of the Separation Equity Act.
“The complexity is 100 percent about legal discrimination,” said divorce attorney Deborah Wald, referring to the complexity and expense of resolving tax laws associated with same-sex dissolutions. In addition to the tax complications, Wald said the legal aspects of family dissolution are more likely to be complicated by issues of parentage and surrogacy than they are in same-sex marriages.
Proponents of AB 2700 would prefer to see same-sex marriage legalized in California again, and also fully recognized by the federal government. But for now they want to see the bill pass as a temporary solution to help unsnarl same-sex divorce laws in the state.