Much of his work is prenups or living-together agreements, although there have been a few cases out of left field, such as that of the two U.S. soldiers, on leave from duty in a combat zone, who married in Massachusetts to avoid a stop-loss order that would have sent them back into harm's way. They claimed residency at a Boston hotel, got hitched, and expected to be discharged under Don't Ask Don't Tell. Instead, the military called their bluff (no one in the platoon believed these two were actually involved) and they went back to combat duty. One of these not-actually-gay grunts came from a prominent family, and they were adamant that his sham marriage not follow him through life, popping up on legal documents forever. Zupcofska was brought in to make this gay marriage of convenience disappear, expunging it from Massachusetts records.
Zupcofska can help avoid all kinds of pitfalls that come with gay breakups, which brings us back to Eric, who would have benefited from a living-together agreement that defined his role and guaranteed him certain assets. If he and his well-off partner had been married, Zupcofska would have had more legal leverage; instead, Eric got a pile of cash and the BMW, but not the time-share or the house he felt he deserved. As counterintuitive as it seems, Zupcofska recently encouraged a client to go through with his marriage despite—and, really, because of—his cold feet. The client had long been dependent on his partner's finances, and Zupcofska didn't want him to be left out in the cold if they eventually broke up.
It works both ways. Zupcofska handled the divorce of a wealthy interior designer who didn't want to give a dime to his couch-surfing ex, a former actor. David E. Cherny, a partner at Atwood & Cherny in Boston, represented the actor. "Peter sent me a letter," Cherny says. "It read something like, 'This is eminently reasonable. Sign this so these people can put the matter behind them.'" Cherny didn't sign, arguing that the duration of the marriage was much longer than it appeared on paper. Cherny didn't exactly get what he wanted for his client, which was long-term alimony based on the length of the couple's relationship, but he got more than he would have without the protections that marriage affords.
Zupcofska still considers the case a success: a court-assisted legal compromise in which his client kept most of his cash and treated his former partner fairly. "With divorce, the worst in humanity comes out," he says. "The message here—and the message to get out in New York—is to get a prenup when you're still in love."
He looks back over seven years of same-sex marriage and laughs about some of his battles with other lawyers. "People want to show their solidarity with you. A lawyer will say, 'You know, my nephew is gay.'" But platitudes don't equal effective legal representation. If Zupcofska has any advice for family-service lawyers in New York, it's to make sure they're culturally sensitive to their gay clients' lifestyles. "More than half of the gay couples I know have open relationships," Zupcofska explains, "or geographic monogamy. They frown on such behavior in Boston, but they'll go to Key West and fool around." He expects he'll be writing that into plenty of prenups in New York. "That's less common with lesbians, but they have their own issues." Everyone does.
Divorce is, after all, more than a separation of assets; it's an emotional and instantly recognizable point of closure—a pock-marked period at the end of a sentence. "People want the catharsis of being able to spill their guts in a deposition," Zupcofska says. "To say all the wrong things you did to me, and all the things I was doing for you that you never appreciated. Then, after $150,000 in legal fees, they're able to settle. I think a successful divorce is when a couple can dance at their children's wedding. Or in this case, they can run into each other in Provincetown."
Also on Details.com
Breaking Bad: A Brief History on Gay Divorce
Separation Anxiety: Five Burning Questions About Same-Sex Splits
Your Marriage Isn't Dead—It's Comatose
The Divorce Survival Guide
Would You Wear a Male Engagement Ring?