PA High Court Allows Dissolution of Out-of-State Civil Unions
The Pennsylvania Superior Court has ruled that a civil union is, for all practical purposes, the equivalent of a marriage, and that the state must grant parties seeking to terminate a civil union the same rights as parties seeking to terminate a marriage. The parties in the lawsuit were joined in a civil union in Vermont in 2002, opted to separate less than six months later, and have not been able to terminate the civil union because of the Pennsylvania Defense of Marriage Act. Unfortunately, since the DOMA was found unconstitutional, the Pennsylvania legislature has not taken any action to modify its family law codes to comply with the new law.
In the aftermath of the invalidation of the Pennsylvania DOMA, the parties in this case (Neyman v. Buckley) filed a divorce complaint in Philadelphia Family Court. The court refused to hear the case, however, arguing that it did not have jurisdiction, as the Pennsylvania statute only allows the state’s courts to divorce parties from “the bonds of matrimony.” The court contended that a civil union did not qualify as “bonds of matrimony.” In addition, the court cited Vermont law (where the parties entered into the civil union), which mad a clear distinction between marriage and civil unions. The court concluded that the lawsuit was more akin to a breach of contract than a divorce.
Pennsylvania’s high court, however, disagreed, ruling that a civil union has the “odor of marriage,” and differs only in matters of sexual orientation and semantics. Because the laws of Vermont do not contradict those of Pennsylvania, and because public policy favors recognizing other states’ law when they don’t conflict, the Pennsylvania courts should recognize the Vermont (and other state) civil union as being the same as a marriage.
At the office of Joanne E. Kleiner & Associates, we have more than 25 years of family law experience. We’ll help you stay focused on what matters. To schedule an appointment with an experienced Pennsylvania divorce attorney, contact our office online or call us at 215-886-1266.