Lawyer: Same-sex divorce lawsuit filed in Greenville Co. - FOX5 Vegas - KVVU


Lawyer: Greenville Co. same-sex divorce case could impact marriage laws

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Some of the lawsuit, paperwork in the divorce case. (March 13, 2014/FOX Carolina) Some of the lawsuit, paperwork in the divorce case. (March 13, 2014/FOX Carolina)

One woman's attorney hopes that a lawsuit filed in Greenville County Family Court could change laws against same-sex marriage laws in South Carolina - and it's all due to a divorce.

Cathy Swicegood, the plaintiff in the case, said that since the dissolution of her 13-year relationship with another woman, she has not been able to get COBRA insurance, which would be entitled to heterosexual couples who divorce.

"On Nov. 8 of last year, out of the blue, she walked in and said she had feelings for someone else and wanted me out of the house," Swicegood said.

Swicegood's insurance was previously with her partner's employer, who offers same-sex benefits, she said.

Swicegood's attorney John Reckenbeil told FOX Carolina that under federal law, a "qualifying event" has to happen to force COBRA coverage, such as divorce, termination or death. He described the relationship between Swicegood and her now-ex-partner as a "common law marriage" that has since soured.

Reckenbeil said that since South Carolina doesn't recognize same-sex marriage, that qualifying event can't happen, and his client can't get COBRA. Reckenbeil further alleged that Swicegood is being denied equal protection under the law.

Swicegood's suit, filed Thursday, seeks a divorce from her former partner, though Reckenbeil said that, under state law, that's likely not to happen.

Reckenbeil said that he has issued a formal notification to the South Carolina Attorney General. He added that he also plans on filing with the South Carolina Court of Appeals and on the federal level when and if his client is denied the divorce.

Greenville attorney Grant Varner, who has no direct involvement in the case, said that it appears, from the suit, that Swicegood and her partner crossed every "T" and dotted every "I" to show that they were a married couple - except without getting the marriage license.

And with that detail, Varner said the case could completely change the way South Carolina legally sees marriage.

"It's entirely possible that this case has the perfect mixture of elements to change law," Varner said.

FOX Carolina tried reaching out to the defendant in the case, Swicegood's ex, but was not successful.

In May 2013, a family court judge ruled that he did not have jurisdiction over the case. Reckenbeil filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court. 

He said the appeal was heard Wednesday by the S.C. Court of Appeals. 

Because of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June 2015 that found bans to same-sex marriages unconstitutional, Reckenbeil said the court has to decide whether to remand it back to family court for a hearing.

"We are asking for an opportunity to present that Cathy was common law married," Reckenbeil said.

A ruling is expected in six to 12 weeks.  

Copyright 2014 FOX Carolina (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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