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A gay old divorce: want the full rights of marriage? Get ready for the full cost of divorce: from $1,000 to $100,000 to ... well, the sky's the limit.

Jack Venzer and Joseph Barri disagree about a basic detail of their relationship. Venzer says it lasted 20 years Barri says 18. But they agree on one fact: Their breakup was nasty.

Venzer, 49, who describes himself as a stay at-home "classic 1950s housewife," wanted to remain in the 23-room house that he owned with Barri in Melton, Mass. Barri, 57, a partner in a Boston law firm, initially offered to pay Venzer $72,000 palimony for 10 years, list him as the beneficiary of a $500,000 life insurance policy, and split equally the proceeds from selling their house. Venzer calls the initial offer "extremely generous monetarily" but says he could not accept his former partner's demand that he leave the house, even if it never sold. He brought a lawsuit against Barri, and Barri withdrew his offer as the dispute went to court.

Some gay and lesbians couples who decide to marry in Massachusetts could get a crash course in how legal divorces differ from past breakups: Not only will their split require a judge's signature, it also could require one spouse to pay alimony, share retirement savings, and split up a lifetime's worth of belongings. "Right now it's fairly easy in stone-sex relationships for one person to just walk away and not give any economic support to their former partner," says Brad Sears, director of the Williams Project on Sexual Orientation Law at the University of California, Los Angeles. "Marriage changes that."

Venzer is convinced that he would have received a better settlement if the couple had been married. The two men, who separated in 2000, reached an agreement in 2003 that allows Venzer to live in the house until it's sold, entitles him to the first $300,000 from the house's sale and 50% of the remaining proceeds.

"To me, one of the advantages of being able to get married is being able to get divorced," says Joyce Kauffman, a family law attorney in Cambridge, Mass. "Right now, gay people don't have the structure that the divorce laws provide to heterosexual married people. They have to rely on more difficult legal theories to prove that they have a right to the distribution of assets."

Divorcing isn't cheap. After attorneys get involved, it can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $100,000. But divorce laws will place gay and lesbian couples in the right venue--family courts. They are accustomed to emotional breakups and able to protect the weaker spouse from injustice, says Jennifer Pizer, senior staff attorney in Los Angeles for Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. In Massachusetts, if a gay couple marries and later files for divorce, the state will issue an automatic restraining order that prevents either spouse from selling marital assets. To decide what's fair, Massachusetts judges consider factors such as the length of the marriage and the health of the spouses.

And don't forget no-fault divorces where a spouse could owe alimony to someone who caused the breakup, says Frederick Hertz, an attorney in Oakland, Calif., and coauthor of A Legal Guide for Lesbian & Gay Couples. "It's a concept that has not caught on in the gay community," he says. "It's like, 'He left me and I have to pay him money?'"
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Money Talks
Author:Henneman, Todd
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1U1MA
Date:Mar 30, 2004
Previous Article:Marry me and save: gays and lesbians who can legally marry in May could enjoy a financial boost.
Next Article:You can't take it with you. Why it's never too soon to get a will and an estate plan.

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