Navigating Divorce after Coming Out

By Amanda Feder




Whereas some individuals know themselves to be within the queer or gender, sexual, and romantically diverse (GSRD) community at an early age, adults may feel safe to explore their identities at later ages in life. Coming out, or sharing your identity with individuals of your choice, is a unique process for everyone. Coming out in a marriage can provide an opportunity for a partnership to grow. Sometimes, partners may decide divorce is the best option, which is still bound to be an emotional process for you and your family. Divorce for individuals within the GSRD community has come a long way in recent years, but still has a unique set of challenges and considerations.


UCLA’s Adam Romero shares several considerations for GSRD families experiencing divorce. Factors include how long you have been married, if you have children together, perceptions of GSRD identities, and divorce within religious communities (Dowd, 2019). For instance, the court’s focus on years of married legal status, rather than the years in partnership prior to marriage legalization for same-sex couples can influence the dividing of assets. For same-sex couples, legal marriage provides protections for non-biological parents through the process of divorce, if the child was adopted like a stepparent. However, many same-sex couples have historically and continue to face discrimination and stigma in family courts. Additionally, for polyamorous families, child custody can look like what parents in same-sex relationships experienced prior to the 1990s during separation, according to Elisabeth Sheff, Ph.D.(2017) polyamorous and sexual-minority family expert.


Many individuals within the GSRD community have compromised, or non-existent, relationships with their family of origin due to anti-LGBT/ GSRD stigma, which can increase stress levels and barriers when navigating the divorce process. Perhaps you were not met with a loving and respectful response from your ex and other family members when you began to come out. This is not a reflection of your worth. It is a brave and powerful choice to understand and speak your truth and should be treated as such. The risk of stress and external LGBT-phobia runs high during these experiences calling for self-care and finding answers to your questions.


1) Practice self-compassion and self-care.

2) Have honest and age-appropriate conversations with your family. Planned Parenthood provides great talking points and examples on how to start talking to your children about identity. Check out their page here for age-appropriate conversation starters and resources. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/parents/identity

3) Know your rights and options. Reach out to a local GSRD group to connect you with resources, including GSRD-affirming legal services.

4) Find or create a community during this time! Divorce can feel like a lonely experience, and it is important to connect with others during this new chapter of your life. Reach out to a local GSRD group to see when upcoming meetings are, and if there are any groups specific to your questions and needs.

5) Children report grieving the other children once polyamorous and combined families separate (Sheff, 2017). Checking in with your child and creating time for their relationship to continue with the other children is key for healthy adjustment.

Additional Resources:

https://theforayfirm.com/will-county-divorce-lawyer/what-unique-issues-do-lgbtq-couples-face-in-divorce

https://www.divorcenet.com/resources/same-sex-divorce-everything-you-need-to-know.html

Videos:

Ask a Therapist: I came out "later in life". Now what?

Coming Out Later in Life

References:

Dowd, R. (2019, May 30). Navigating the new landscape of LGBTQ divorce. UCLA. Retrieved February 1, 2022, from https://newsroom.ucla.edu/stories/navigating-the-new-landscape-of-lgbtq-divorce

Eli Sheff, P. D. (2017, October 16). Children in polyamorous families, part 4. Lifeworks Psychotherapy. Retrieved February 1, 2022, from https://www.lifeworkspsychotherapy.com/children-polyamorous-families-part-4/

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