First Minnesotans to file for same-sex divorce can finally move on
On August 1, the first day same-sex couples could legally marry in Minnesota, another provision of the marriage equality law went into effect: The state started recognizing out-of-state unions from places like Iowa, which had already been granting same-sex marriage licenses.
For Dawn Tuckner, this meant that the wedding she had had at Niagara Falls, in Canada, in 2004 was now valid in Minnesota. But there was one problem. She and her one-time wife had been separated for three years.
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"More than anything, she basically felt stuck," says Jason Brown, the family law attorney representing Tuckner. "She's been in this relationship and had no alternative to formally dissolve it, and at the same time, she hasn't had the ability to re-marry effective August 1."
Now, Tuckner will finally get closure, as well as the chance to legally wed her new love of three years. Her case -- the first known same-sex divorce in Minnesota -- also raises some of the questions that many gay couples will have to answer as they navigate these early days of the new law.
For Tuckner and her soon-to-be-ex-wife, what seemed like the simple solution -- marry in Canada, divorce in Canada -- wasn't an option. Even though they had wed there, Tuckner and her partner would have had to live in the country for three years before a Canadian court could take jurisdiction over their divorce.
So instead, they cobbled together Minnesota's laws as best they could to govern their split.
The laws that allow divorcing couples to equally divide property were closed to them, so they had to rely on the "cohabitation" statutes, which allocate belongings based on who contributed what to the relationship. In other words, if one partner covered the house payments in the relationship, then that partner would get the house.
The couple has a son together, and during their split, the state's laws did cover their custody and parenting time arrangements. Now, though, same-sex couples enduring a divorce will have an easier time. "They'll be able to wrap it all into one," says Brown, "just like every other heterosexual couple."
When she first approached Brown, in late May 2012, Tuckner wasn't even thinking of a Minnesota-sanctioned divorce: She just wanted guidance on how to legally involve her new partner in her son's life.
"If she had met with us even six months earlier, it probably would have been a completely different path to chart," Brown says.
Like Tuckner, anyone who previously wed in another state will have to dissolve that first union before they can legally re-marry here. And further down the road, Minnesota courts will have other new waters to chart. For instance, those who say that family courts are biased for the mother will have to watch how the system handles cases where two mothers are involved.
"It's really going to be an interesting couple of years here," Brown says. "We have to let things unfold and see what changes are made."
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