Last week, the Appellate Division, Third Department, exercised its equitable muscle to filling in the gaps while the marriage and divorce laws of the different states catch up with each other. On July 21, 2011, in Dickerson v. Thompson, the court granted a dissolution of a Vermont civil union.
Under Vermont law, the civil union entered by the gay couple was not a marriage. As a result, a New York divorce, “no-fault” or otherwise, was not the appropriate remedy. The appellate court noted that as “the plaintiff would be entitled to a dissolution of a civil union in Vermont,” but for her failure to be a current resident of that state. Giving the plaintiff her need relief, the court declared the broad equity powers of the New York Supreme Court were sufficient to declare the Vermont civil union dissolved. Thus, the plaintiff would now be free to marry, domestically partner, or re-unite with another.
While New York tore asunder one gay couple, more than 800 gay couples were able to marry on July 24, 2011, the first day of such unions under New York’s same-sex marriage legislation. New York is still coming to grips with joining the rest of the country by making the dissolution of a marriage a matter of one spouse’s choice: a simple declaration that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. That law is just under 10 months old.