Family Law

Family court judge rules Obergefell applies retroactively, and women had a common-law marriage

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Gay marriage court

A same-sex couple who split up after about 30 years together had a common-law marriage, a South Carolina family law court judge recently ruled.

It might be the first time in a family law court trial that a judge determined Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court opinion that validated same-sex marriage, applies retroactively, lawyer David Martin told the The Herald.

He represents Debra Parks, who asked the court for a division of property. Her former partner argued that she did not consider their relationship a marriage. The newspaper did not name the woman, who reportedly fears negative repercussions about her sexual orientation.

Parks, 62, is disabled, according to the article. She and the woman became a couple in 1977, when Parks was still married to a man. Judge Thomas White, who sits in York County, found that the common-law marriage began in 1987, when Parks divorced her husband. He will rule on spousal support in a few weeks, Jim Tucker, who is Parks’ other lawyer, told the newspaper.

Parks and her former partner are listed as the owners of a Rock Hill home, according to the article, and they had joint bank accounts. Also, they reportedly presented themselves as a married couple to some family and friends. They split up in 2016.

Eight states, including South Carolina, recognize common-law marriage, according to the article.

“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.”

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