Since marriage became legal for same-sex couples in North Carolina on October 10th, 2014, many LGBT couples in our state have exchanged their vows and assumed the same rights and protections as married opposite sex-couples, achieving marriage equality. But, fortunately, for those same-sex spouses who just can’t make their marriage stick in the Tar Heel State, the right to get married includes the right to get divorced.
In North Carolina, spouses must physically separate and live apart for one year before they can obtain a divorce. So, how is it that some same-sex couples in North Carolina could get a divorce so soon after gaining the right to marriage equality? Marriage equality means that North Carolina must not only allow same-sex couples to marry in our state but it must also recognize the marriages of same-sex couples who wed in another state, which could have occurred years ago. So, while it is true that same-sex couples who married on or after October 10th in our state will have to wait a year after physically separating before they can divorce, same-sex couples residing in North Carolina who were married in another state, and who have been separated for more than one year, may now petition the state to dissolve their marriage.
It may seem discouraging to talk about divorces by same-sex couples so soon after achieving equal marital rights—especially during the holiday season. But, the right to obtain a divorce provides spouses the ability to leave an unhealthy relationship while maintaining important protections for their children, their income, and their property—protections previously unattainable or, at least, more difficult to achieve without marriage equality. One such dreadful scenario is currently being litigated in the courts of Missouri, a state that continues to ban marriages by same-sex couples and that has refused to grant a divorce to a same-sex couple married in another state.
But, same-sex couples can perhaps take a small measure of pride in knowing that while homosexual couples and heterosexual couples have equal divorce rights, divorce rates within the two groups do not appear to be equal. A recent study concludes that same-sex couples have a lower divorce rate than their heterosexual counterparts. The study found a divorce rate of 1.1% for same-sex couples and 2% for opposite-sex couples.
Admittedly, the data pool of same-sex divorce for this study was relatively small compared to heterosexual divorces. And, given more time, same-sex couples may prove themselves to be just as capable of marital dysfunction as their straight counterparts. Those holding that less charitable view—but perhaps more realistic view—may want to remember that marriage equality is a right not an obligation.
For more information on how to achieve some of the protections gained by getting married, while staying single, click here.