Same sex couples must have equal standing in divorce law, senior American judges have ruled.
The Supreme Court of Virginia heard an appeal from a husband who had been compelled to continue paying alimony – known in the UK as spousal maintenance – to his ex-wife, even though she had set up home with another woman.
The couple in question had been married for 16 years, and when they separated in 2008 the husband agreed to pay alimony for a period of eight years.
Under state law, alimony obligations end if the ex-spouse remarries or lives with a partner in a cohabiting relationship for a year or more.
Six years after the couple’s divorce, the husband applied to end the payments, saying his ex-wife had been cohabiting with her female friend for more than a year. But she argued that the law did apply to her because the relationship was same sex.
Her argument was accepted by both a Circuit Court and the Virginia Court of Appeals but that decision has now been overturned by the Justices of the state Supreme Court.
Making a distinction between heterosexual and same sex relationships for the purpose of alimony would be “untenable” and result in unequal treatment, declared Justice William C Mims.
“The individual in the same-sex relationship would continue to receive support while the individual in the opposite-sex relationship would not. We cannot conclude that the [Virginia] General Assembly intended such a result [when it created the law].”
Consequently he was no longer required to make the payments.
The ex-husband at the centre of the case came from Fairfax, an ‘independent city’ in the east coast state. So-called ‘independent cities’ are not part of the surrounding counties. Of the 41 American cities which hold this status, no less than 38 are located in Virginia.
Image by Alejandro Mallea via Flickr