By Melissa J. Houghtaling, Esq.
As love becomes the law in Minnesota and marriage equality is felt across the state, many Minnesota residents have questions about their marriages entered into in Canada or states other than Minnesota prior to August 1, 2013. Furthermore, after the United States Supreme Court recently declared Section 3 of the “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) unconstitutional in the case of United States v. Windsor, 570 U.S. the questions seemed to compound.
The most common question in these specific scenarios is, “Is my marriage from (insert the name of state/country) automatically recognized in Minnesota or do I have to do something?” The quick and easy answer is, “Congratulations! You are married in Minnesota as of 12:00 a.m. on August 1, 2013 and there is no need to “register” or “file” anything for Minnesota to recognize your relationship.” The caveat to this answer is that if you and your loved one entered into a “civil union” or “domestic partnership” in another state those relationships are not marriages and are not legally recognized relationships under current Minnesota or federal law.
Therefore, as of August 1, 2013, same-sex couples married in jurisdictions other than Minnesota will automatically be afforded all of the same legal rights and responsibilities afforded to married heterosexual couples in Minnesota and by the federal government. According to the United States Government Accountability Office, there are 1,138 statutory provisions where marital status is a factor in determining federal benefits, rights, and privileges and in Minnesota marriage provides couples with approximately 515 state-level legal benefits, protections, and responsibilities.
For those individuals whose marriages are now legally recognized there are very few additional legal steps that must be addressed. If you intend to remain in your marriage it is wise to revisit your estate planning documents, beneficiary designations, and employee benefits to make certain all of these areas reflect your “new” relationship status in Minnesota. Your tax advisor can also assist you in determining whether amended tax returns can/should be filed, if there will be new tax consequences for you and your partner, or if there are tax benefits that will now be in effect. Additionally, the newly recognized marriage may affect immigration status and partners to bi-national relationships should seek the assistance of an immigration attorney.
Because Canada and other United States jurisdictions have legally recognized same-sex marriages for over a decade, some Minnesota residents find themselves in a position where they are no longer in a relationship with the person they married in another jurisdiction. As of August 1, 2013 that relationship will be considered a legal marriage under Minnesota law even if Minnesota did not recognize the marriage at the time it was entered into or at the time it ended. If you find yourself in this position you will need to seek a marital dissolution of that relationship (divorce) before you can legally enter into a new marriage. This process can be complex as some former partners are no longer in contact with one another, may no longer reside in the same state, frequently have new relationships, and children may have been born or adopted by either partner during the interim. Seeking a family law attorney versed in divorce and same-sex relationships will be imperative to creating a clear legal landscape for future relationships.
Melissa Houghtaling, Esq. is an Attorney and Shareholder with Heltzer & Houghtaling, P.A. She practices in the areas of family law and estate planning with a specific focus on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. Ms. Houghtaling was recently recognized as one of the Best LGBT Attorneys Under the Age of 40 in the country by the Nation LGBT Bar Association, authored and edited “Minnesota Estate Planning for Non-Traditional Families Deskbook”, is a recognized speaker on issues related to same sex partners and marriage, and is an adjunct legal studies professor at Hamline University. You can find her at www.heltzerhoughtaling.com.