Domestic partnerships have many of the same benefits as traditional matrimony, but there are drawbacks as well. How does Colorado law treat civil unions?
They’re Not Just For Same-Sex Couples Anymore
For a long time, domestic partnerships in Colorado and many other states allowed same-sex couples to obtain many of the same rights, benefits, and recognition as married couples. With same-sex marriage now legal and recognized nationwide, you may think these types of unions would fall by the wayside.
But the reality is that, for same-sex and opposite-sex couples alike, a domestic partnership (also referred to as a civil union) may offer advantages for those who want legal acknowledgment of their committed, long-term relationship but may not want to get legally married.
What are Colorado Civil Unions?
A Colorado civil union is a legal arrangement agreed upon by two people who affirm their current and ongoing commitment to a relationship of mutual caring and support.
The Colorado Civil Union Act governs domestic partnerships in the state. This Act entitles both parties to the same protections and benefits (and makes them subject to the responsibilities) of spouses in a marriage.
Any two adults in Colorado (regardless of gender) can register as domestic partners so long as:
- They are both at least 18 years of age.
- Neither party is married to another person.
- Neither party is already party in another domestic partnership.
- They are not related to the degree that would prohibit a marriage.
Rights and Obligations of Domestic Partners in Colorado
Given the Act’s underlying purpose, individuals choosing to legalize their long-term relationship without matrimony have many of the same rights and obligations under Colorado law as spouses in a marriage. This includes:
- Responsibility for the financial support of one another in the manner prescribed under law for spouses;
- Laws relating to title, survivorship, and inheritance;
- Domestic relations laws, including legal separation, dissolution, allocation of parental responsibilities, child custody, parenting time, child support, property division, maintenance, and award of attorney fees;
- Causes of action related to or dependent upon spousal status, including wrongful death, emotional distress, loss of consortium, dram shop laws, or other torts or actions under contracts reciting, related to, or dependent upon spousal status;
- Prohibitions against discrimination based upon spousal status;
- Workers’ compensation benefits;
- Unemployment benefits;
- Receipt of pension;
- Adoption law and procedure;
- Laws, policies, or procedures relating to emergency and nonemergency medical care and treatment and hospital visitation and notification;
- Privileged communications between domestic partners.
Distinctions Between Marriage and Colorado Domestic Partnerships
Not all states recognize civil unions, meaning the rights afforded to parties in Colorado may not be available in other states.
Similarly, because United States federal law does not recognize domestic partnerships, the parties are not eligible for the rights, benefits, and protections provided by federal law based on marital status, such as taxes, social security, health insurance, and immigration.
Another distinction between marriage and civil unions relates to shared assets.
Any assets acquired during the marriage fall under the heading of ‘marital assets’ and are divided according to Colorado’s law of equitable distribution during a divorce.
But when two legally bound longtime companions decide to separate, they must initiate a partition proceeding to sell any jointly owned property and divide the proceeds.
Is a Civil Union the Same as Common-Law Marriage in Colorado?
While Colorado is one of eight states that recognize both civil unions and common-law marriages, there are distinct differences between the two.
A domestic partnership is a legally binding agreement, most akin to traditional matrimony.
On the other hand, a common-law marriage is a mutual agreement by two individuals living together as a couple and publicly announcing to and representing themselves as married to family, friends and the community.
Because a legal document does not bind common-law marriages the couple does not need to go before a marriage officiant to make their marriage legitimate. However, the couple must be 18 or older, mentally sound, not already married or partners in a civil union with another person, and must represent themselves as married to outsiders.
Registering and Terminating Colorado Civil Unions
Like those entering a marriage, eligible individuals in Colorado Springs who want to enter a civil union must receive a license from the El Paso County Clerk’s office. After receiving the proper registration, they can make an appointment at the El Paso County Courthouse for a judge or magistrate to finalize their union.
If, after entering into a civil union, you or your partner choose to end the relationship, you must legally dissolve the union. This is generally easier than the process married individuals go through for divorce.
A Colorado domestic partnership may end when:
- One of the partners dies;
- The partners are no longer in a close, committed relationship;
- The partners no longer share a common household;
- One partner enters a marriage or forms a civil union with another person;
- The partners have become related by blood or adoption.
Whether Common-Law Marriage, Domestic Partnership, or Traditional Marriage, You Have Rights When Your Relationship Ends
Colorado law recognizes that not all couples have the same circumstances and provides rights and remedies to accommodate the above unions, both at creation and at dissolution.
If you find yourself at the end of your relationship and wondering what your rights are, contact the divorce and family law attorneys at Perkins Law. We have the knowledge, expertise, and compassion to help you through this difficult time. Don’t hesitate to contact one of our family law attorneys today to arrange your free initial consultation.