Dissolving a Civil Union in Colorado
What Is a Civil Union?
A civil union is a state-level recognition of relationships between couples, regardless of gender, which entitles them to benefits and protections similar to marriage. Civil unions have been legal in Colorado since March 2013, when the Colorado Civil Union Act was passed. To enter into a civil union, couples must apply for a civil union license with the county clerk and recorder. Once the license is acquired, the couple has 35 days to enter into the civil union before the license expires.
A civil union may be certified by a:
- Clergy member
- Religious official
- Tribe official
Once certified, the officiant must file the civil union certificate with the county clerk and recorder.
How Did Obergefell v. Hodges Affect Civil Unions in Colorado?
On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme court decided the landmark case of Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. __ (2015). This decision holds that "the Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State." This U.S. Supreme Court decision came nearly a year after same-sex marriage was legalized in Colorado on October 7, 2014.
So, what does this mean for civil unions? Though same-sex marriage is now legal, couples may still enter into civil unions if they wish. However, it is important to remember that while at the state level, a civil union provides partners with the same rights and protections as a spouse, at the federal level, they do not. Therefore, a couple with a Colorado civil union will not be able to access federal benefits associated with income tax filing, survivor benefits, or social security benefits otherwise available to married couples.
Can I Convert My Civil Union to a Marriage
Yes, and the process is fairly simple. Couples who wish to convert their civil union to a marriage may do so by applying for a marriage license with the county clerk and recorder. They must then enter into a marriage within 30 days (before the marriage license expires) and file their solemnized license with the county clerk and reporter within 60 days of the wedding ceremony. Furthermore, if you have a civil union and are looking to change it to a marriage, you do not have to dissolve the civil union first.
How To Dissolve a Civil Union
To be eligible for a dissolution of civil union in Colorado, either you or your partner must have lived in Colorado for 91 days. Couples wishing to dissolve their civil union must file a dissolution of civil union case with the appropriate district court. They will then go through the same legal processes associated with legal separation or dissolution of marriage.
The first step to filing for dissolution is for you and your partner to decide if you will file together or if you will file on your own. If you are filing together, you will be the petitioner and your partner the co-petitioner. If you are filing independently, you will be the petitioner and your partner the respondent. You will then fill out your forms and file them with the court. Those filing on their own will then be required to serve their partner with the dissolution paperwork.
Once your initial documents are filed, you will receive a Case Management Order from the clerk with further instructions and forms to fill out. You will also be given a date for your Initial Status Conference. Both you and your partner should attend the Initial Status Conference, and you must provide your partner notice of at least 14 days of this conference. If your partner does not show up to the Initial Status Conference, you will still be able to proceed with the dissolution.
At your Initial Status Conference, you will meet with a Family Court Facilitator who will review the dissolution process with you and answer your questions. They will also provide you with your next steps. It is important to note that your Family Court Facilitator is not your lawyer, and they do not provide legal advice. If you are planning to file a civil union dissolution, it is recommended that you secure legal representation from an experienced attorney.
What Rights Do I Have?
Typically, partners in a civil union have the same rights as spouses in a marriage. Generally speaking, upon dissolution of a civil union, the couple will go through the same processes of settling property division, spousal support, child custody, and child support as a divorce. Additionally, many couples in a civil union also have prenuptial and postnuptial agreements; these will need to be sorted out during the dissolution process as well.
Just as with a divorce or legal separation, the dissolution of a civil union can be a difficult, stressful process. If you are considering separating or you have already started the process, we can help. Reach out to the Law Office of Alexandra White, PC for help today.