Using Mediation To Address Issues Impacting Same Sex Couples In Arizona

While the legalization of same sex marriages is gaining momentum across the Nation, no one familiar with Arizona’s politics expect this state to jump on the bandwagon any time soon.  Arizona’s ban on gay marriage leads to many practical problems for Arizona’s gay citizens.

One less frequently discussed disadvantage for gay Arizonans is that there is no government process in place to help gay couples “divorce.”   While that might sound like an unintended positive result (who wants to get divorced?), it leaves gay couples without a forum to fairly divide assets and debts and to provide for “spousal maintenance” where appropriate.

In an Arizona divorce, there are laws that define when items purchased or debts incurred during the marriage are “community” (owned by both parties equally) or separate.  Outside of a marriage, in general, ownership and obligation is a result of whose name is on the purchase contracts/deeds or credit cards.  While there are some arguments one can raise in civil court to counteract that presumption, the law can cause unfair results for unmarried couples.

Similarly, in divorces, where one party cannot meet his/her reasonable needs through employment or through property divided in the divorce, he/she may be entitled to financial support from the other spouse.  He/she may also qualify for support if he/she supported the other party’s education or if he/she is of an age (or has a child of an age or condition) that prevents appropriate employment.  Outside of marriage, one party may be left destitute after giving up his/her career to support his/her partner’s career

Gay couples can use mediation to help minimize the inequities of limited legal remedies.  Mediation is a way to resolve disputes without the need for Court or animosity.  In mediation, parties to a dispute work with a neutral party (the mediator) to amicably resolve disputes and enter a binding agreement.  Mediation is much less expensive, time consuming and stress than litigation.  It is also confidential and certain (the parties control the outcome instead of a judge).  Most impressively, mediation is successful almost 90 percent of the time.

Same sex couples can use mediation in two different ways:

First, gay couples can use mediation to enter into a binding, enforceable contract while their relationship is intact to define the respective financial obligations of the parties, both during the relationship and if it should terminate.

Second, same sex couples can attend mediation after their relationship ends to determine a fair resolution of any outstanding issues, such as property division, debt division and support.

Mediation is the civilized way to prevent and end conflict for all Arizonans.

Alona M. Gottfried is a family law mediator and attorney in Arizona.  If you have questions about mediation, she can be reached at: 480-998-1500 or  This is a general interest article only and is not intended to be legal advice.  See a legal professional before making legal decisions.

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