Man to pay alimony to ex-wife, despite her domestic partnership with woman

A man whose ex-wife lives with other woman and even uses her last name should continue paying alimony to her according to judge’s order.

California marriage laws say alimony ends when a former spouse remarries, and Ron Garber thought that meant he was off the hook when he learned his ex-wife had registered her new relationship under the state's domestic partnership law.

An Orange County judge did not see it that way.

The judge ruled that a registered partnership is cohabitation, not marriage, and that Garber must keep writing the checks, $1,250 (EUR904) a month, to his ex-wife, Melinda Kirkwood. Gerber plans to appeal.

The case highlights questions about the legal status of domestic partnerships, an issue the California Supreme Court is weighing as it considers whether same-sex marriage is legal. An appeals court upheld the state's ban on same-sex marriage last year, citing the state's domestic partners law and ruling that it was up to the Legislature to decide whether gays could wed.

Lawyers arguing favor of same-sex marriage say they will cite the June ruling in the Orange County case as a reason to unite gay and heterosexual couples under one system: marriage.

Same-sex marriages are currently allowed only in Massachusetts, while a handful of other states recognize civil unions on domestic partnerships. A domestic partnership law went into effect Monday in Washington state.

In legal briefs due in August to the California Supreme Court, Therese Stewart, chief deputy city attorney for San Francisco, intends to argue that same sex couples should have access to marriage and that domestic partnership does not provide the same reverence and respect as marriage.

The alimony ruling shows "the irrationality of having a separate, unequal scheme" for same-sex partners, Stewart said.

Garber knew his former wife was living with another woman when he agreed to the alimony, but he said he did not know the two women had registered with the state as domestic partners under a law that was intended to mirror marriage.

"This is not about gay or lesbian," Garber said. "This is about the law being fair."

Kirkwood's attorney, Edwin Fahlen, said the agreement was binding regardless of whether his client was registered as a domestic partner or even married. He said both sides agreed the pact could not be modified and Garber waived his right to investigate the nature of Kirkwood's relationship.

Garber's attorney, William M. Hulsy, disagreed.

"If he had signed that agreement under the same factual scenario except marriage, not domestic partnership, his agreement to pay spousal support would be null and void," Hulsy said.