How Civil Unions Will Change Colorado Family Law for Same-Sex Families

The “Colorado Civil Unions Act” is slated to become law in the spring of 2013 with the first civil unions expected after May 1, 2013. The Colorado Civil Unions Act authorizes any two unmarried adults, regardless of gender, to enter into a civil union. The availability of civil unions will dramatically change the landscape of Colorado family law as it will not only provide a means of relationship recognition for same-sex couples, but it will provide a third form of relationship recognition for opposite-sex couples in addition to traditional and common law marriage. In light of the substantive changes invoked by the Colorado Civil Unions Act, it is imperative to break down the bill into its various components to highlight the most relevant information for parties and practitioners alike.

What Constitutes a Valid Civil Union?

To have a valid civil union, the parties must be:

A. Unrelated adults (over age 18), regardless of the gender of each party;

B. Neither party is a party to another civil union; and

C. Neither party is married to another person.

The Intersection of Civil Unions and the Uniform Dissolution of Marriage Act

The Uniform Dissolution of Marriage Act is contained in Title 14, Article 10 of the Colorado Revised Statutes. Title 14, Article 10 outlines the rights and responsibilities of spouses to a marriage in the dissolution, declaration of invalidity, and legal separation of their marriage. In addition, Title 14, Article 10 addresses the rights and responsibilities of parents and other interested third parties in the Allocation of Parental Responsibilities for children. The Civil Unions Act makes many changes to Title 14 to incorporate parties to civil unions. The most important changes are as follows:

A. Parties to a civil union will have the right to access the courts to divide property and allocate parental responsibilities at the dissolution of the civil union. This means that the majority of the rights and responsibilities provided to married spouses upon dissolution of their relationship are now afforded to parties of civil unions.

B. Parties to a civil union are responsible for the financial support of one another in the manner prescribed under law for spouses. This means that pursuant to C.R.S. §14-10-114, the parties to a civil union are subject to an award of spousal maintenance should the facts deem an award appropriate.

C. Property of parties to a civil union will be divided in accordance with equity based upon the contribution of each party to the acquisition of the property, the value of the property set apart to each party, the economic circumstances of each party at the time the division of property is to become effective, and any increases or decreases in the value of the separate property of the spouse during the marriage or the depletion of the separate property for marital purposes.

D. Parties to a civil union will be able to take advantage of the concept of “marital” vs.” non-marital” property.

One of the largest benefits of marriage is divorce. While the Civil Unions Act does not give couples the right to “divorce” it does give them access to the same statutory set of rights and responsibilities and the same judicial process as traditionally married couples to dissolve their relationships.

Civil Unions and Children

One of the most important impacts of the Civil Unions Act is the impact the law will have on children of same-sex couples. Previously, in order for both same-sex parents to be considered “legal” parents of the child, one or both parties would have to endure an invasive and expensive adoption process. The Civil Unions Act has simplified, and in some cases eliminated all together, the adoption process for same-sex parents.

The Act contains two very important changes:

A. For a child born to one of the parties during the term of the civil union, there will be a presumption that both parties to a civil union are the legal parent of that child. As a result, for children born into a civil union, the adoption process has been eliminated.

B. For a child born to one of the parties outside of the term of the civil union, the other party has the right to adopt through a step-parent adoption rather than a second parent adoption. The process for obtaining a step parent adoption is much less invasive and expensive than a second parent adoption.

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