Stephen J. Buhler, Attorney at Law

New Supreme Court ruling poses complex family law issues

Law in the United States is made up of a unique interplay between federal law and state law. The federal government has what many consider a wide berth to create and enforce laws that affect the daily lives of states citizens. One the other hand, states hold all other powers not given to the federal government and are sovereign, which can led to laws that are out of line with federal laws and even other state laws.

The United States Supreme Court recently struck down part of the federal law Defense of Marriage Act as being unconstitutional. Now legally married same-sex couples can receive federal benefits and the same tax treatment as their opposite sex counterparts. Because marriage is an area of law governed by state law the results of the ruling will vary state to state. In Utah, where same sex marriages and civil unions are not recognized the result creates a dual system of family law. Couples who have married in other states, adopted children and moved to Utah face an unknown predicament if they decide to split or one partner dies while in Utah as no divorce or survivor benefits can be had since their marriage is not recognized.

The Internal Revenue Service is currently working on how to approach the tax status of legally married couples living in states such as Utah. For those wishing to stay in Utah there are other legal ways of assuring property and assets are passed to its intended recipient. Those considered unmarried couples can place property in each other's name and create wills and legal contracts between themselves outlining spousal support, child support and other property division in case a split or death occurs. However, this may draw property considered non-marital property in other states into the realm of marital property.

Deciding how best to handle the litany of state laws is up to each individual couple. As more rulings are made on the issue state and federal laws will continue to change.

Source: New York Times "After Rulings, Same-Sex Couples Grapple With Diverging State Laws" Sheryl Stolberg June 28, 2013

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