As the Baltimore Sun reports, and most of Maryland has heard, Maryland voters made history on Election Day as they voted to make same-sex marriage legal in our State. As we discussed in our February 24, 2012 blog the Maryland Senate passed the Civil Marriage Protection Act legalizing same-sex marriage in February 2012, but we knew that the decision would ultimately be up to the voters. After months of campaigning, fundraising and controversy over the law, the voters have spoken. Maryland has joined six other states and Washington D.C. in allowing same-sex marriage and is one of only two States to pass same-sex legislation by the popular vote.
As of January 1, 2013, same-sex couples will be permitted to obtain a marriage license from the Court, just as a heterosexual couple would. As of now the current law defining a legal marriage in Maryland, found at Maryland Code Family Law, § 2-201 states “[o]nly a marriage between a man and a woman is valid in this State.” As of January 1, 2013 the statute will read “[o]nly a marriage between two individuals who are not otherwise prohibited from marrying is valid in this State.”
We have previously blogged about the issues that surround the recognition of same-sex marriages in Maryland, specifically the Attorney General’s support of recognizing same sex marriages created validly in other states and Maryland lawmakers attempt to block gay marriages. Most recently we discussed the Court of Appeals recently heard arguments on the denial of a same sex divorce in Prince George’s County. The Court of Appeals issued its decision in May 2012 holding “[a] valid out-of-state same-sex marriage should be treated by Maryland courts as worthy of divorce, according to the applicable statues, reported cases, and court rules of this state.”
Now that same-sex couples will be permitted to marry in Maryland it is time for us to prepare for changes we will see in our divorce and family law practice. The changes are vast but include changes in custody and visitation law. Often same-sex couples adopt a child, however when couples are not married, only one partner is generally the legally recognized adopted parent. When these relationships end, the child is left with one legal parent and one who is presently recognized as a third party (not a parent) in the State of Maryland. With the passage of this legislation, same-sex couples who marry and adopt a child while married will both be the legal parents of the child and will be recognized as same should the marital relationship end in separation and/or divorce. Additionally, same sex couples will be able to enter into pre-nuptial agreements just as heterosexual couples; will be considered a spouse in the event their partner dies, thus entitling them to protections and distribution under our estates and trusts article; will be able to be divorced in the state of Maryland regardless of whether married in Maryland or outside of the State; will be afforded the same protections as heterosexual married individuals in a divorce proceeding, specifically with respect to custody issues, child support issues, alimony issues, marital property awards, division of retirement assets, use and possession of family home and personal property if there is a child, and division of personal property; will be permitted to title their homes as tenants by the entireties, which is a titling only designated to married couples; depending on the employer, married same sex couples will be able to cover their spouse on their health insurance plans; and will be permitted to change their last names upon marriage rather than petitioning the court for a change of name.
For more information on a same-sex divorce in Maryland, please contact an experienced Maryland Divorce Attorney.