“LGBTQ couples may be surprised by the formality of the divorce process,” Collard said. Before 2015, “unless the couple were the parents of children, there was no intervention by a family court judge — no alimony and no division of retirement accounts or other property.”
Post-Obergefell, LGBTQ couples stand on new ground.
“We’ve gone from informal to hyper-formal and it has taken gay people some time to acclimate to this new suite of rights and obligations,” he said. “Before Obergefell, couples who had gone out of state to get married were not considered married in Georgia.”
“With Obergefell,” Collard continued, “couples who had already separated after their out-of-state marriage suddenly found themselves needing a formal divorce. It caught a lot of couples off guard.”
Regarding do’s, Collard had this advice: “The LGBTQ community has its own customs, traditions and sensibilities. And for centuries those did not include marriage equality.”
The attorney also urged LGTBQ couples to keep an open mind, and have patience with the members of the court, “as they continue to get to know us.” Collard said that he had “found that the courts have been very welcoming to my clients. Regardless of the politics of the issue, I think that most judges were very happy to see this expansion of civil rights. We’ve been making our own rules around long-term relationships for so long, we need to be patient in this transition into marriage and divorce equality. Tell your whole story.”
Regarding don’ts, Collard urged separating LGTBQ couples to not “be afraid to take advantage of every right that Obergefell grants you. As a citizen who is married in a nation with full marriage (and divorce) equality, don’t be timid about telling your attorney that you want a division of property, and potentially alimony, just like any other divorcing couple.”
He said that couples shouldn’t be afraid to seek out a gay family law attorney, if that would make them more comfortable.
“But keep in mind, we have many straight allies who would be very happy to help,” he said.
Collard said that “break-ups have become a lot more formal, and many couples had not planned for the division of property or alimony that comes with divorce. So, there’s been a certain adjustment period that is still in progress.”
Reflecting on the post-Obergefell world, Collard noted that, “With marriage equality immediately came gay people getting divorced. It was like watching our community spread its legal wings. Many gay people, though hopeful, did not expect marriage equality to happen when it did. It was a huge step on a large continuum of rights.”
“Now,” Collard said, “the fight continues, for protections against discrimination in healthcare, housing, employment and many other areas.”