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Out of State Civil Unions – Valid in Massachusetts?

Out of State Civil Unions – Valid in Massachusetts?

Posted on November 24th, 2014

Are Out of State Civil Unions Treated like Divorce Cases in Massachusetts?

Civil Unions are still legal in many states including Vermont. In Elia-Warnken v. Elia, 463 Mass. 29 (July 26, 2012), a case of first impression for Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court was required to determine whether Massachusetts recognizes civil unions as a valid marriage under Massachusetts law and whether a civil union created in another state needs to be properly dissolved before the parties can enter into a valid marriage in Massachusetts.

In April 2003, the Plaintiff, Elia-Warnken entered into a valid civil union in Vermont. However, before moving to Massachusetts, the Plaintiff never dissolved his civil union. In October 2005 the Plaintiff and Defendant married in Worcester, MA. In October 2009, the Plaintiff filed for divorce from the Defendant. After the Defendant found out about the Vermont civil union, the Defendant moved to dismiss the complaint for divorce and counterclaimed that their marriage was not valid.

The Vermont Statutes states “An individual who is a party to an undissolved civil union is barred from entering into a marriage with a different party.” Vt. Stat. Ann. Tit. 15, §§4, 511. The Massachusetts court acknowledged that it usually extends recognition to out-of-state marriages, even if the marriage wouldn’t be valid in Massachusetts. The court concluded that the Plaintiff’s Vermont civil union was the same as a valid Massachusetts marriage.  The court then concluded that since the Vermont civil union was the same as a Massachusetts marriage, the Plaintiff needed to have the Vermont civil union properly dissolved first before he entered into a valid Massachusetts marriage. Thus the marriage between the Plaintiff and the Defendant was void from the beginning.

Are you trying to divorce a party that was previously in a civil union and need help determining what your next step is? Call the attorneys at Wilkinson and Finkbeiner and we can help you get through the process.  We offer a free, private consultation to discuss your case in simple, straightforward language.