The first same-sex divorce just issued in Tarrant County, Texas is setting the stage for what Dallas, Austin, Houston and San Antonio attorneys in family law practices will be seeing more of in the coming months and years. The two women who were recently able to finalize their divorce in Fort Worth, Texas say it took them nearly two years to legally finalize the end of their relationship because of the variations in the legal landscape across the country, and Texas has long been a last hold-out where all things same-sex marriage encounter difficulty. But while this divorce is “one of the few in Texas,” it is probably the first of many.
Their hearing took only five minutes before state District Judge William Harris granted Brooke Powell and Cori Jo Long their divorce, which both were beginning to doubt would happen. It was “the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling June 26 that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage” that “prodded Tarrant County judges to grant the divorce,” so San Antonio attorneys can probably expect to see more of the same in Bexar County in the future, though some analysts are warning, “don’t expect the first divorce to open the floodgates.
Lawyers in divorce and family law in Texas know that obtaining divorces isn’t nearly as simple as granting marriages. San Antonio attorneys may have been enlisted to help same-sex couples fight for custody rights and adoption privileges, but once the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, pretty much all anyone needed to do was head down to the courthouse and sign up. Not so with divorces. Especially when Texas “state law on divorce does not seamlessly mesh with the high court ruling on marriage,” according to some experienced divorce lawyers.
Even a opposite-sex couple divorcing would have found themselves with a 61 day timeline in Texas—the “shortest time allowed under Texas law in most circumstances.” But for same-sex couples, appeals procedures drag on since their divorces “may require tools that do not yet exist” in the legal world, according to some San Antonio attorneys and Texas family lawyers like those representing Ms. Powell and Ms. Long.
And laws of the land are slow to change, journalists and analysts point out. Even with Supreme Court rulings on hand and cultural attitudes shifting rapidly in the last several decades, questions remain about what statutes will go and what will stay. One Austin attorney was eager to point out that the “Supreme Court said the state’s sodomy law was illegal in 2003 and they still have that one on the books.”
Deciding what happens with the family codes in same-sex divorces will be a huge task for the Texas Legislature when it meets again in 2017 since the “Supreme Court did not really touch on the kid issue…and it will take a bit of time to make some of these changes” to the laws that guide judges in adjudicating divorces for families. As for the first successfully divorced same-sex couple in Tarrant County, they both believe that soon enough “it will just be everyday life; people get married and people get divorced,” and both will get equal protection under the state law as well as federal—eventually.