In 2011, the Colorado Legislature passed the Colorado Civil Union Act which allows same-sex couples to enter into a civil union together. The law allows same-sex couples to enter into a legal relationship as close to marriage as possible without the relationship being called a marriage in that the Colorado Constitution specifically bans same-sex marriage. While the drafters of the legislation tried to create a legal framework as close to marriage as possible, there are some unique aspects of civil unions that same-sex couples should be aware of.
Jurisdiction to Dissolve the Civil Union
Under Colorado’s Dissolution of Marriage Act, if one party no longer lives within Colorado, a Colorado court may order the couple divorced, but does not have jurisdiction to order the out-of-state person to hand over assets, pay child support, or pay maintenance. However, if the couple enters into a civil union, the court will have jurisdiction for all aspects of the dissolution of the civil union. The reasoning behind this is that if a coupe moves to Alabama, which does not recognize same-sex marriage or civil unions, the couple would have no legal means to dissolve the civil union.
Defense of Marriage Act
In 1996, President Clinton signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which allowed states to ban same-sex marriages. Also under Article 3 of the act, same-sex couples were not recognized as spouses under federal law; the result being over 1,000 marital rights and privileges not being awarded to same-sex couples. In 2013, the Supreme Court remedied this in the landmark case United States v. Windsor which held Article 3 of DOMA to be unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.
Under Colorado’s civil union system, any same-sex couple who are legally married in another state and move to Colorado become parties to a civil union. Accordingly, the added federal rights and privileges awarded to married same-sex couples after the ruling in Windsor do not apply to civil unions in Colorado. In response, nine same-sex couples recently filed suit in Colorado state court arguing that Colorado’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional since they are treated as second-class citizens under Colorado law. Colorado’s Attorney General, John Suthers, stated that he will defend Colorado’s ban on same-sex marriage and the case will likely eventually make its way to the Colorado Supreme Court.
The appellate courts in Utah and New Jersey applied the Windsor ruling in overturning their respective state’s bans on same-sex marriage. If the Colorado courts follow suit, it would create a problem for Coloradans who are already in a civil union in that the couple would have to dissolve their civil union in the Colorado courts before being able to marry.
If you and your same-sex partner entered into a civil union in Colorado or were married in another state and moved to Colorado, and are looking to dissolve your civil union for any reason, you should consult an attorney to make the process as efficient as possible. The attorneys at Peter Loyd Weber and Associates are knowledgeable and informed about the unique aspects of civil unions in Colorado. Call us today at (720)863-7755 for a FREE consultation and let us get started working on your case.