NEW YORK – After Judy Weatherly lost her job as a director at a mental health clinic, the price she and her spouse, Nancy Burke, had to pay for health insurance skyrocketed.

Married in California in 2008, they had coverage through Weatherly’s workplace. Once unemployed, Weatherly qualified for the federal COBRA subsidy to extend her benefits, but the same wasn’t true for Burke. This meant that although they were able to pay just 35 percent of Weatherly’s premium to extend her benefits, they must pay full price for Burke — adding up to at least $5,000.

Even when legally married, a patchwork of state laws, combined with a federal law that bans recognition of such unions and varying corporate policies, makes a range of financial matters more complex for gay and lesbian couples than for their straight counterparts.

Take taxes. In states that recognize same-sex unions, couples may file joint state returns and claim the benefits offered married couples. But the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act prevents the Internal Revenue Service from accepting joint returns from gay couples.

“We have to file individually federally, and then for the state we file a joint return,” Burke said. “In order to do that, we have to have a tax accountant who really knows her stuff.”

Research by The Williams Institute, a UCLA think tank focused on sexual orientation law and policy shows the additional costs extend well beyond the price of preparing another tax return. For instance, health insurance benefits for domestic partners are taxed as income, but not for married couples. The researchers found this one item adds, on average, more than $1,000 per year to a couple’s tax bill.

Same-sex couples are also disadvantaged when it comes to inheritance and estate taxes. Federal law generally allows married people to transfer an unlimited amount to their spouse at death without paying estate taxes — but not same-sex couples. That rule cost couples about $3.3 million last year, according to The Williams Institute.

There are some steps same-sex partners can take to approximate the financial rights of married couples, but many don’t think about the issue until they’ve been together for years.

“People don’t want prenups because they’re not romantic,” said Richard Milstein, an attorney with Akerman Senterfitt in Miami. But having one can help avoid messy legal fights, he said.

Other concerns to address include health care powers of attorney, child guardianship or adoption papers, deeds for homes, bank account and investment account paperwork and wills. Inheritance issues are particularly important, because the laws in some states could put blood relatives ahead of partners, especially if the state doesn’t have legal marriage or civil unions.