Gay breakups, equal assets 

Mediation held to hammer out details

Three years ago, a friend of Matt McCusker's who was gay ended a long relationship. Even though his partner owned the house where they lived, McCusker's friend had invested a significant amount of money into renovating the home, including purchasing granite countertops for the kitchen and plasma televisions. But because McCusker's friend had moved into his boyfriend's home, he didn't think he was entitled to any assets from the house. So he walked away from the relationship without seeking any monetary settlement for his contributions to the home improvements.

Appalled by his friend's decision, McCusker started thinking there must be a better way to resolve such a split. After all, his friend had invested in the property and must have some legal rights associated with the place.

So McCusker, who holds a master's in psychology, did some research and found an untapped niche: same-sex "divorce."

"Same-sex couples had no guidance if their relationships didn't work out," McCusker says, "even though they shared bank accounts, children, houses and cars."

In today's charged environment of gay marriage -- Gov. Sonny Perdue has called for a special legislative session to place a new anti-gay marriage ban on the books, despite the fact gay marriage is already illegal in Georgia -- McCusker's business helps gay couples who split obtain some rights in an arena where they aren't afforded legal marriage rights. Because same-sex couples can't obtain a piece of paper that legally cements their relationship, they risk an even larger mess than straight married couples if a split occurs. McCusker simply tries to lessen that friction.

Typically, he sits down with the couple and hammers out details of who gets what -- cars, child support, even pet toys and pet visitation programs -- in about four hours, and then types up the agreement. Both parties sign the document and then McCusker has it notarized, making it legally binding.

"It's a contract between two people on how they will proceed with shared assets," McCusker says. "It accomplishes the same sort of thing as a divorce but it's a lot cheaper."

He also offers an out: The agreement doesn't take effect until 10 days after it's signed. That way, a partner who's feeling unsure can run the agreement by an attorney and have it nullified or changed by a lawyer if need be.

McCusker's usual fee is $700 per mediation, and he handles about 15 domestic mediations per month. Surprisingly, only about 15 percent of his clientele are gay couples. McCusker attributes the low percentage to same-sex couples not knowing such an option is available.

"I help give couples closure and legal protection," McCusker says. "It's like I'm the captain of a ship but I'm blindfolded. My job is to keep the boat moving."

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