In 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States decided a groundbreaking decision relating to gay marriage. The application of this decision changed millions of lives around the country because for the first time in our history, gay marriage was legalized in all 50 states. This decision was Obergefell v. Hodges. To many gay and lesbian couples around the country, this meant wedding bells were officially in their future – no matter where they lived.
At this point in time, not many individuals thought about how this ruling would affect their lives before the decision was made. However, this year, one judge decided that the ruling in Obergefell was going to apply to a couple’s relationship prior to the 2015 ruling. A South Carolina family court judge decided that the Obergefell decision created a common law marriage for a lesbian couple, who had been together for 30 years, beginning in the 1980s. Common law marriages are not accepted in every state, but it is recognized in South Carolina.
The Court made this decision because after the couple had separated, one party, Deborah Parks, petitioned the court for an award of division of property. The other partner argued the parties never married, and therefore no need for the court to divide up the property. The Court reviewed the couple’s history and determined that they qualified for a common law marriage.
“We owned a house together. We were a family, even when society didn’t accept it,” Parks said. “I want people in my situation to know they do have rights and can get help.”
The couple had held themselves out as a couple to the public, had shared accounts, and lived together for the majority of their relationship. In any other circumstance, this would have qualified as a common law marriage years ago: if the couple had been a man and a woman. The affects this had on the couples separation was that now the court could order an award of their property being divided. If the court would have denied this request, the parties would have had to fight over every item and assets they acquired over 30 years. To any person who has been divorced, knows how hard this process can be, and how helpful the court truly is.