Washington lawyers bank on divorce for gay couples 

Divorce lawyers are welcoming the surge of just-married gay couples in the District, lining up for a stable of new clients once wedding bells are drowned out by alimony fights, custody battles and other legal standoffs previously reserved for straight couples.

"It will bring more business to family lawyers for all sorts of issues," said Carolyn Goodman, a D.C. general practice lawyer who focuses on divorce law. "The bottom line is you see a lot of people getting married for the wrong reasons and it will probably cause the same strife that breaks [straight] marriages down."

And it will lead to more property disputes and custody challenges, expanding the caseload for lawyers, she added.

Lawyers will be waiting with a familiar pitch.

"Relationships don't always last forever," said Washington lawyer Abraham Blitzer. "That's a fact of life. For people whose lives are intimately intertwined as those getting married, it's important for them to wrap up those legal ramifications."

Even with the spike in marriage -- and divorce -- candidates, lawyers won't see an immediate uptick, as District couples are required to be separated for six months if the split is mutual, or one year if contested.

For their part, gay-rights advocates say divorce rates of almost 50 percent may fall, as sham marriages -- often sought for benefits or social acceptance -- won't be as commonplace.

Many couples married since the weddings began on March 9, such as Southeast's Angelisa Young and Sinjoyla Townsend, were alreadyin long-term relationships, which they argue will ease growing pains that come with wedlock.

"It's not like I don't know how she squeezes out the toothpaste," Young said Tuesday. "We're pretty much past that. Now we're at the smooth-sailing part."

Young said they haven't uttered a word about divorce: "Why would we?"

But in Massachusetts and Canada, some gay couples sought divorces as soon as they were eligible to do so.

For those married couples who moved to states that never recognized the union in the first place, divorces were not granted.

The District joined Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Iowa in recognizing gay marriage.

Some have questioned the extent to which couples were motivated by setting history and securing benefits in heading to the altar.

"Gay marriage is not an insurance policy against difficult times," said Darlene Garner, who wed her girlfriend March 9.

With more people getting married, it's inevitable more will divorce, said Washington lawyer Michelle Thomas.

"It's going to change a lot of discussions same-sex couples are having," she said, anticipating more challenges to the traditional, heterosexual adoption model as well.

A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed lower divorce rates in states that allow gay marriage than many that ban the practice. Critics say those numbers are contingent on a variety of factors beyond sexual orientation.

bhughes@washingtonexaminer.com

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