New laws allowing gay marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships raises a number of legal issues pertaining to the dissolution of these relationships. If straight couples are allowed to divorce, then obviously gay couples are too - and the passing of marriage laws
guarantees this "right." However, the dissolution of gay partnerships can be more complicated than those of straight partnerships.
First, let's be clear who we are talking about. In straight marriages, the divorce rate is nearly 50%. That means that one of every two couples will get divorced. However, gay marriages are typically (and surprisingly) much more stable: less than 1% of civil partnerships in the United Kingdom were dissolved within 30 months of the enactment of the law. In Denmark, gay marriages are also much more stable and the divorce rate is lower compared to straight marriages. While numbers in the United States are less exact due to the status of varying laws in the individual states, divorce among gay couples tends to be lower than among our straight counterparts. So while gay men may be perceived as running in and out of relationships, these statistics show us that when gays commit to marriage, they typically mean it.
So here's the legal-ese: While your boyfriend and you might have a dramatic break-up, neither of you is legally bound to give the other anything else, unless of course you own joint property, have signed a lease on an apartment together, have a child, or share finances. For married couples, the situation is a bit more entangled and might have a lot more to do with getting through the legal red-tape: in many states, a marriage constitutes "joint status" on behalf of both parties. This means that each partner is entitled to an "equitable division of the assets" if the partnership dissolves. This typically means that 50% of everything you own belongs to him, and vice-versa. Couples can get-around this requirement by signing a pre-nuptial agreement, which can be as simple as a type-written document that you both sign and have notarized.
For gay couples that do decide to divorce, the legal hurdles can seem insurmountable. Typically only states that grant or recognize gay marriage can grant dissolutions of marriage. Even in places that do recognize gay partnerships, divorce can be tricky because gay marriages aren't recognized
by the federal government or the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS currently has no guidelines on what to do with gay marriages and divorces. A national marriage law in favor of gays would certainly justify this cumbersome situation.
So what should you do if you want a "do-it-yourself" gay divorce? First, consider trying some alternatives to divorce: seek out a counselor or therapist to talk to, ask your partner to go to couples counseling with you, make a list of the things you want to improve about yourself and your relationship and then share this list with your partner. If none of these things work and you've both agreed on a divorce, then consider an arbitration process as opposed to a courtroom. Arbitrators are trained to act as a third-party mediator and will help your partner and you to split up your assets and file the necessary paperwork. If you have to go to the extreme and divorce your partner without an amicable solution, visit the courthouse or court clerk that issued your marriage certificate. These officials will give you the information and forms you need to have divorce papers served to your partner.
Bottom line: marriage is serious business. Know your rights and the potential legal pitfalls that might result should you later choose to dissolve the relationship.