Pasternak & Fidis Reporter

February 17, 2022

Treatment of Vermont Civil Union as a Marriage for Purposes of Divorce in Maryland

In 2020, in a case called Sherman v. Rouse, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals had to decide whether a 2003 Vermont civil union, which pre-dated marriage equality, should be treated the same as a marriage for purposes of granting a divorce and related rights, including spousal support and equitable division of property. One aspect of the problem presented to the trial court was that, unless the parties’ legal status could be treated the same as a marriage, the Maryland court would have no authority to dissolve it; and, because the parties were not residents of Vermont, a Vermont court would have no authority to dissolve it either, leaving them in a rather awkward spot. The other aspect of the problem is that, unless the parties’ legal status was treated the same as a marriage, there was no basis for equitably dividing the property accumulated during their 15+-year relationship. The Court of Special Appeals held that the Vermont civil union should indeed be treated the same as a marriage for purposes of granting a divorce and adjudicating property division. It seems like hair-splitting, but the Court of Special Appeals did not say a civil union was a marriage; rather, it said that, because the Vermont law creating civil unions specified that parties had the same rights and obligations as parties to a marriage, including the right to a divorce and to share in property at divorce, the Maryland court should respect Vermont law and give the Vermont civil union the same effect in Maryland.