Skating on Thin Ice

IMG_8925By Leslie O’Neal

Olympic bronze-medal winning ice skater Johnny Weir’s marriage to his attorney husband, Victor Varnov, is on thin ice.  The pair wed in New York City on New Year’s Eve in 2011 in a civil ceremony.   Weir filed for divorce in February of 2014 citing domestic difficulties, and not unlike his flamboyant shows on the ice, the demise of his marriage has seen its fair share of drama.  So far the divorce has included accusations of adultery, meddling in-laws, and even arguments over custody of the couple’s beloved dog!  While many of these are typical issues dealt with in divorce cases, the dissolution of a homosexual marriage is a rapidly changing area of the law.

Thankfully for Weir and his husband, they aren’t seeking a divorce in Georgia, where there are currently very few legal protections for same sex couples.  Georgia’s Constitutional Amendment 1 was passed in 2004 and makes it unconstitutional for the state to recognize gay marriage.   Therefore, even if a same sex couple had been in a committed relationship for years or had been legally married in another state, their divorce petition would be denied as a matter of law.  But this state of the law doesn’t change the reality that there are countless same sex couples living in Georgia.  When same sex couples reach the end of their relationship, one or both of them can be in an extremely vulnerable position due to the lack of precedent regarding the division of their assets and/or debts. 

Because there is virtually no legal precedent in Georgia for the dissolution of same sex relationships, attorneys often have to get creative and use equitable theories and principles that are more traditionally used in business litigation.  For example, if the couple owned real estate together and both names are listed on the deed, either party could seek a partition of the property, at which point the Court would either apportion each party’s interest in the property, or possibly force the sale of the property so the proceeds can be divided.  Same sex couples can try to accomplish the division of non-real estate assets and personal property through other quasi-contract legal theories, but these approaches are still relatively uncertain.  Even the most creative legal approaches cannot allow for spousal support in a situation where one partner of a same sex relationship has been financially dependent on the other for a long period of time.

While there is very little clarity for same sex couples going through a separation in Georgia, recent high profile rulings on same sex marriages could mean new developments on the horizon for the state of the law.  Thankfully for Weir and his husband, they are divorcing in New Jersey, where same sex marriages are recognized and their legal rights to divorce have already been established.   Now they can focus on the truly important issues, like custody of their precious pooch!  According to Court papers obtained by PEOPLE, Weir’s husband claims that although their beloved dog was purchased by Weir, it should be awarded to him because it was “a ‘make-up gift’ after he caught Weir sending inappropriate text messages to another man.  A battle over the pup may be brewing, as Weir told People magazine last year that the dog was “the love of his life” and has been posting photographs of the dog on Instagram since the divorce proceedings began.

To find out how pets are treated in a divorce in Georgia, visit Leslee Champion‘s blog post: