06/09/2011 04:48 pm ET | Updated Aug 09, 2011

Wyoming Opens the Doors to Same-Sex DIvorce

In an important ruling by its state Supreme Court, Wyoming has reversed a lower court's refusal to hear a petition by a lesbian couple seeking to end the marriage they entered into in Canada. As has happened in various other states (Rhode Island, Texas, and Oklahoma for example), the trial court had ruled that since Wyoming does not allow same-sex couples to get married there, they would not grant a divorce. The trial court's logic -- quite irrational in my opinion -- was that granting a divorce would be a form of "recognition" of the marriage.

Fortunately, the Justices of the state Supreme Court saw otherwise. In their ruling in the case of Christiansen v. Christiansen (S-10-0252, issued June 6, 2011), the court concluded that the ordinary rule that requires their state courts to honor out-of-state marriages should apply here. Not allowing couples in Wyoming the option of getting married in that state does not, they ruled, preclude a court from granting a divorce. The opinion points out that a divorce proceeding does not involve the recognition of an ongoing relationship, but rather, only applies the rules of divorce to that couple.

The court's ruling is limited to telling the trial court to dissolve the legal relationship by granting a divorce. The court did not rule explicitly on whether a claim by either spouse for property, money, or spousal support would be honored - but the general wording of the opinion seems to indicate that it would do so. However, the ruling also said that the divorce proceeding does not seek to "enforce any right incident to the status of being married," whereas in fact, a claim for property or spousal support is fundamentally a request to grant an "incident of marriage." So it isn't clear at this point how the financial disputes of the couple will be resolved, when the trial court takes up their case.

There are tens of thousands of same-sex couples that now live in states that do not recognize their legal partnerships or marriages. A significant segment of this group will likely want to end their relationships in the next few years, so let's hope that the enlightened ruling of the Wyoming court sets the tone for other state courts when they are faced with this situation. As I've so often quipped, one of the only things that is worse than not being able to get married is not being able to get divorced!