When her three-year-old marriage broke up, the 44-year-old doctor assumed she and her ex would split their property and jointly parent their two children. Her stay-at-home spouse wanted sole custody and the right to move the children out of Massachusetts.
In pretrial motions, both parents made the same argument to a judge: The children should be with me; I’m their mother.
For years, family court judges leaned toward a maternal preference when it came to custody disputes. But what to do when both parents are women, or neither is? Judges in Massachusetts have been grappling with that question since gay and lesbian couples began filing for divorce in 2004, seven months after the state Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage.
Nearly 10,000 gay and lesbian couples married after the ruling. Massachusetts does not keep records on the number who have divorced, but lawyers who specialize in family cases say it is in the dozens. Those who choose to end their marriages soon discover that the trauma of divorce is compounded by legal and financial difficulties that heterosexual couples generally are spared.
“One of the benefits of marriage is divorce,” said Joyce Kauffman, a Boston divorce lawyer who has handled a dozen same-sex divorce cases. “But for a lot of couples, that benefit is very complicated and very costly in ways that heterosexual couples would never have to experience.”