Appellate Division Rules That Property Division in a Same-Sex Divorce Can Cover Assets Acquired Prior to the Marriage Equality Law

Though it took until 2011 for New York State to recognize same-sex marriages, many LGBT couples lived together in committed relationships long before that. Some of these couples chose to marry in religious ceremonies or other types of proceedings despite the fact that their union was not yet granted legal status. A recent divorce case in Brooklyn centers on the question of whether the date for the accumulation of marital property runs from the date of a couple’s religious marriage ceremony or when they were wed legally following the passage of New York’s Marriage Equality Law. 

In 2005, Robin Mackoff and Linda Bluemke were not permitted to obtain a marriage license in New York, but had a rabbi solemnize their relationship by performing a traditional Jewish wedding ceremony for them. As is customary, the brides married under the canopy known as a chuppah, and signed a ketubah, which is a formal marriage contract written in Hebrew. The parties lived together as spouses and were legally married in July 2011, shortly after it became possible to do so. 

Ms. Mackoff filed for divorce in 2019 and a decision in the Supreme Court of Suffolk County held that, for purposes of property division and spousal maintenance determinations, the 2011 legal marriage date should apply. However, the Appellate Division reversed this decision, declaring that the Marriage Equality Act could be applied retroactively and that the trial court would have to decide if the 2005 religious ceremony would qualify as valid. To support this holding, the Appellate Division pointed out that, in previous cases, New York courts had recognized legal marriages that had occurred in other jurisdictions before 2011. 

The difference between a marriage that lasted for eight years and one that lasted for 14 could be significant when a court rules on marital property division and spousal maintenance. If you’re going through a same-sex divorce and your relationship started before New York instituted marriage equality, it’s important work with a knowledgeable family lawyer who can review the facts of your case and assess how a court might rule when your marriage truly began.   

As the Long Island divorce leader, Bryan L. Salamone & Associates, P.C. has extensive experience handling the unique challenges associated with same-sex divorce in New York. Please call 1.631.479.3839 or contact us online to schedule a consultation with a dedicated attorney.

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