Civil Unions in Colorado

Effective May 1, 2013, the Colorado legislature has authorized civil unions, defined the legal protections, rights and duties of parties who enter into civil unions and enacted procedures for dissolving civil unions. As defined in Colorado, a civil union is a relationship established by two eligible persons that entitles them to receive the benefits and protections and be subject to the responsibilities of spouses.

To establish a civil union in Colorado, the two parties to the civil union must both be adults, regardless of the gender of either party; neither person can be a party to another civil union, and neither party can be married to another person. Thus, persons of the same or of opposite genders can enter into a civil union.

By Colorado law a party to a civil union has the same rights, benefits, protections, duties, obligations, responsibilities, and other incidents under law as are granted to or imposed upon spouses. Note, however, that the Colorado legislation does not have the power to grant parties to civil unions the benefits, protections, duties or obligations that are purely a matter of federal law. As a result, to the extent that federal law does not recognize civil unions, there will be federal benefits, duties and the like that do not apply to civil unions.

In Colorado a party to a civil union is included in any definition or use of the terms “dependent”, “family”, “heir”, “immediate family”, “next of kin”, “spouse”, and any other term that denotes the familial or spousal relationship, as those terms are used throughout Colorado law. As a result, parties to a civil union are responsible for the financial support of one another in the manner prescribed under law for spouses. Laws relating to title and survivorship, or other matters relating to the acquisition, ownership, or transfer of real or personal property also apply to parties to a civil union in the same way as they apply to spouses. Legal causes of action related to or dependent upon spousal status are available to parties to a civil union. Also, prohibitions against discrimination based upon spousal status apply with equal force to parties to a civil union.

Dissolving a Civil Union

Prior to the enactment of the legislation relating to civil unions there was no clear procedure or predictable resolution when parties to a domestic partnership or other long term relationship ended the arrangement. Now the law of domestic relations applies to the legal termination of a civil union. As a result, proceedings for declaration of invalidity (commonly referred to as annulment), legal separation, dissolution, child custody, allocation of parental responsibilities, parenting time, child support, property division, maintenance, and award of attorney fees all apply to civil unions. Such proceedings may be available to parties in Colorado even if the civil union was formalized elsewhere.

The lawyers at McGuane and Hogan can advise you about your rights and duties as well as the applicable procedures to end a civil union in Colorado.
Modifying the Terms of a Civil Union by Agreement

Parties to a civil union may sometimes wish to modify the terms or conditions of the civil union and/or the financial or other results which would apply on the termination of the civil union whether through legal dissolution of the relationship or the death of the of the parties. Parties to a marriage have the legal ability to achieve such results by way of a martial agreement, sometimes also referred to as a prenuptial or post nuptial agreement. Similarly parties to a civil union may create agreements modifying the terms, conditions, or effects of a civil union in the same manner and pursuant to the same statutory provisions.

The ability to modify the terms of the civil union could be particularly useful to couples who have been together for many years before entering into their civil union. Such an agreement could provide a way to formalize expectation and understandings relating to the assets and obligations accumulated both prior to and during the civil union.

These provisions provide an avenue for defining the terms or conditions of the relationship and do not invalidate or affect an otherwise valid domestic partnership agreement or civil contract between two individuals who are not married to each other in which the individuals set forth an agreement about the rights and responsibilities regarding similar matters if the agreement or contract was made prior to May 1 2013 or was made on or after May 1, 2013 and was not made in contemplation of entering into a civil union. The lawyers at McGuane and Hogan can provide assistance in drafting agreements modifying the terms, conditions, or effects of a civil union.