August 23, 2016
GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) today applauded the New Hampshire Supreme Court’s ruling that a premarital period of interdependent cohabitation may be considered in the division of property when a couple, whether same-sex or opposite sex, is divorcing.
“We are still working toward full marital equality in the post-Obergefell world,” said Gary Buseck, GLAD’s legal director. “This decision represents both a critical step toward full equality and a very concrete development for all divorcing couples.”
In the Matter of Deborah Munson and Coralee Beal addressed the divorce proceedings of a female couple who were together for 20-plus years, the last four of which were in civil union and then marriage. When it came to division of property, the trial court considered their relationship to be “short-term” and awarded the bulk of the property to one partner based only on the period of legal recognition. The Court held that the trial court’s failure to consider premarital cohabitation rendered that court’s division of marital property unsustainable.
The Court wrote “Our holding that the court may consider premarital cohabitation applies to all divorce proceedings,” pointing out that more and more straight couples are cohabiting prior to marriage such that it is an issue for a broad segment of the population. The Court vacated the trial court’s ruling and remanded the matter for reconsideration of the property division and alimony.
GLAD and the ACLU of New Hampshire had submitted an amicus brief in the case arguing that it was objectively unreasonable to characterize a 20-plus 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. The brief also argued that denying this same-sex couple the presumptively equal distribution of marital property would violate the guarantee of equal protection.
GLAD and the ACLU filed in support of Coralee Beal, who was represented by the law firm of Shaheen & Gordon, P.A. of Manchester and Sacco, Maine.