Navigating a same-sex separation in Oregon can be complicated

Same-sex couples can face various hurdles during their relationships, but those couples in Washington County, Oregon, that make the decision to separate may encounter even more challenges. There are a number of factors that can make same-sex dissolution or separation in Oregon complex , so it is important for couples to understand both their legal standing and their rights during a split.

Domestic partnership and dissolution rights

According to the website of the Oregon Judicial Department, same-sex couples cannot marry in Oregon, but they can register as domestic partners. As such, couples are entitled to the same rights and benefits as a married couple, with the exception of receiving federal benefits. According to the Oregon State Bar, these rights include:

  • Access to medical records and right to hospital visitation.
  • Receiving workers' compensation benefits paid to a partner.
  • Inheriting property or standing during a partner's wrongful death suit.
  • Being eligible for spousal support after dissolution.
  • Going through dissolution proceedings similar to those employed in a heterosexual divorce.

Making legal arrangements after ending a partnership can be complicated, however, since members of domestic partnerships have the same rights as married couples, yet their separation is governed by different dissolution proceedings.

Additional issues may crop up because same-sex marriages performed elsewhere are not recognized in Oregon. If a couple that married elsewhere hasn't registered their domestic partnership in Oregon, they will not be entitled to any benefits. Couples that married elsewhere might also struggle to dissolve the union, since the marriage cannot be legally recognized or dissolved in Oregon, and since other states have residency requirements for divorce.

Recent initiatives have sought to change the state's same-sex marriage ban. This would affect many Oregon couples both during their relationships and during any later separations.

Potential changes for same-sex couples

According to The Oregonian, in October this year, two couples filed a lawsuit to overturn Oregon's ban on same-sex marriage. Other proponents of same-sex marriage are working to bring the issue onto the ballot again in 2014.

If voters overturn the ban or if the lawsuit succeeds, couples will not enjoy significantly different rights while married than they currently would while in a registered domestic partnership. However, couples would be entitled to identical dissolution proceedings as heterosexual couples, and couples that were married in different states would have a means of legally separating.

With the current law, same-sex couples in a registered partnership do benefit from important rights and protections. Still, differences between dissolution and legal divorce can come out during a separation, which makes seeking qualified legal help important.

Anyone who is preparing for a dissolution in Oregon - whether of a domestic partnership or an opposite-sex marriage - should speak with a qualified attorney to ensure that his or her rights and interests are protected during the separation.