Aug 28, 2016 3:27 PM

Supreme Court says cohabitation should be considered in divorce cases

CONCORD - The Supreme Court has sent a same-sex divorce back to the lower courts, and that decision could also affect opposite-sex couples.

The unanimous ruling stems from the divorce case of Deborah Munson and Coralee Beal, of Chester. The couple began living together in 1993, were joined in a civil union in 2008, and married in 2011.

In 2012, when Munson filed for divorce in Derry Family Court, she argued that the marriage was short-term one, the Concord Monitor reported. Beal challenged that, arguing that “the court must consider the parties’ lengthy 21-year relationship . . . (when ordering) a distribution of the marital property.”

Family court ruled that the 2008 civil union started the marriage and "issues in their divorce will be determined using that as the start date." The court awarded Munson 88 percent of the estate's value. Beale appealed to the Supreme Court.

The state Supreme Court has sent the case back to the lower courts to be reheard, ruling that courts cannot rule out cohabitation.

“We see no reason why (state law) RSA 458:16-a, II(o), which broadly permits the trial court to consider ‘any other factor that (it) deems relevant,’ would not permit the court to consider premarital cohabitation,” wrote Justice Gary Hicks, who penned the ruling.

Hicks also noted the issue is not limited to divorces of same-sex couples: “Premarital cohabitation is not unique to same-sex couples. In 2008, 6.2 million households were headed by people in co-habitating relationships . . . They included 565,000 same-sex couples. Our holding that the court may consider premarital cohabitation applies to all divorce proceedings.”

The ACLU and the Gay & Lesbian Advocate & Defenders of Boston filed briefs in support of Beal.


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