In U.S., same-sex spouses may face financial tangles

Gay Marriages

Christel de Vries, a Dutch outsourcing manager for Accenture, sealed her love for her female partner twice, once in 2001 in Amsterdam under Dutch law and again in 2007 in a civil union in New Jersey. Yet under U.S. federal law, she isn't married — and that is creating obstacles in her divorce.

The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act rejected federal recognition of same-sex marriages in the United States and abroad and declared that no state need recognize a same-sex marriage in another state. The conflict between state and federal law — and between states — creates double worlds for gay marrieds in nearly every area of their financial lives.

Last week, the U.S. Appeals Court in Boston ruled that DOMA unfairly denies federal benefits to same-sex couples married under state law. The decision would apply to couples in the First Circuit, where Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut allow people of the same sex to marry.

However, the court put a stay on its decision until the next step in the appeals process, most likely a Supreme Court ruling.

"If this decision is upheld on appeal, it should pave the way for a wide swath of federal protections for married same-sex couples," said Susan Sommer, director of constitutional litigation for Lambda Legal in New York.

But in the meantime, and despite the broadening support from President Barack Obama and others for the rights of gay people to marry, they still face more paperwork and legal issues - and costs - than heterosexual couples.

"A lot of gay couples are getting married because they can, not because they've thought through the legal consequences," said Larry Jacobs, a Rockville, Maryland, estate and trust attorney specializing in same-sex couples. Jacobs often discusses pre- and post-nuptial agreements with clients to sidestep these knots.

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