Polyamorous Marriages and Divorces in Maryland/DC: Some Thoughts

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There has been quite a lot of legal news lately about marriages and relationships between three or more people. For example, a couple of cities in Massachusetts recently passed laws giving polyamorous marriages/relationships the same legal protections as two-person marriages. Even more recently, as reported here, a New York civil court judge held that a three-person relationship deserves as much legal recognition and protection as traditional two-person marriages.

That case involved three men and a rent-controlled apartment. The judge did not make a determination as to the ultimate issue, but held that the still-living parties were entitled to try and prove that they were in an actual polyamorous relationship. One of the three men died and he was the only person on the apartment lease in question. New York law allows romantic partners to renew such leases under certain circumstances even in the absence of a valid marriage. In that case, two of the three men were legally married to each other, but did not live together in the apartment. Rather, the third member of the polyamorous marriage lived in the apartment with the one that died. The landlord refused to allow the non-married member of the relationship to renew the lease.

Litigation was filed and the non-married member of the triad is arguing that, as a member of the marriage, he should be allowed to renew the lease. The New York judge has allowed the case to proceed. In so doing, the court held that polyamorous relationships/marriages are entitled to the same legal protections as two-person marriages.

So what about polyamorous marriages in Maryland and the District of Columbia?

Neither jurisdiction recognizes such marriages, but that could change either through new statutes or through judicial interpretation of existing laws.

How might this affect Maryland and DC divorces?

A survey of Maryland and DC divorce laws suggests that the legal architecture is already in place to effectively handle polyamorous divorces. A Maryland or DC divorce generally involves four or five main legal issues: grounds for the divorce, division of marital property, alimony, child custody and child support.

In general, the current legal doctrines and structures can be expanded to cover multi-person marriages. For example, currently, marital assets and debts are equitably divided into two parts. It is not too difficult to imagine that the same legal principles can be used to divide marital assets and debts into three parts. It may be more complicated and time-consuming, but it can be done. The same is true for child custody. The standard in Maryland and DC is that custody is to be awarded based on what is in the best interests of the child or children. That legal analysis can be done just as easily for three people as for two. Child support is similar. Instead of dividing the child support obligations between two persons, the obligations will be divided among three (or more) persons. Likewise for alimony where the current legal analysis can be expanded to cover alimony needs and payments among three or more persons.

As for the various grounds for divorce in Maryland or DC, no particular changes seem needed. Both jurisdictions allow for no-fault and “for-fault” divorces. These grounds can be equally applied to two-person marriages and multi-person marriages.

Maryland and DC Divorce and Family Law Attorneys

For more information, contact the seasoned and experienced Maryland and DC divorce, family law and estate planning attorneys at The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl. We have the experience and expertise you need. We also have proven experience with divorce and family law for Maryland and the District of Columbia. Schedule a consultation today or call us at (410) 696-4326 or (202) 964-7280. We have offices in Columbia, MD and Washington, DC.

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