In the Matter of Deborah Munson and Coralee Beal
GLAD and the ACLU of New Hampshire submitted an amicus brief in this case before the New Hampshire Supreme Court concerning the fair distribution of property in a divorce between two women who were in a 20+ year committed relationship, and joined in a civil union/married for four of those years.
On August 19, 2016, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that as the had couple lived together in an interdependent committed relationship before entering into a civil union/marriage, the period of premarital cohabitation could be considered when deciding whether to equally divide all marital property. The Court vacated the trial court’s ruling and remanded the matter for reconsideration of the property division and alimony.
In deciding the property distribution, the trial court had considered only the period of civil union/marriage, and found the relationship to be short-term. The court then relied on that finding to allocate the bulk of marital property to one spouse, treating the couple as though they had no interdependent relationship prior to their first opportunity to enter into a legal relationship in 2008.
The brief filed by GLAD and the ACLU of New Hampshire argued it was objectively unreasonable to characterize the 20+ year relationship as short-term, as well as contrary to relevant principles of New Hampshire law and policy which support the recognition of premarital cohabitation periods.
Further, under New Hampshire law, the time factor justifying a potential, unequal division of property is only a short-term duration where it is possible to return the parties to their pre-marriage position. That is not realistic when, as in this case, the parties have a long-term relationship which is a mix of years of economically interdependent cohabitation and marriage.
The brief also lays out that it is a violation of Equal Protection to limit access to a state benefit (in this case presumptively equal division of marital property) to those who are married where same-sex couples were denied the opportunity to marry, and that to effectively rely on that bar and disregard the full length of the couple’s relationship here violates the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell (that bans on marriage for same-sex couples were, and are, unconstitutional).