Colorado legislature fails to clarify civil unions law

The Colorado legislature failed to clarify the state’s laws related to civil unions and same-sex marriage, making the divorce process complex for many couples.

Same-sex marriage is now legal in Colorado, but there are still numerous uncertainties related to the state's civil unions law. As reported in the Colorado Independent, it was as recently as 2012 that legislators were fighting tough battles for same-sex civil unions, but now that same-sex couples can actually get married in the state, there is much less of a need for these unions. In other words, many couples have "upgraded" their civil union status to legal marriage.

Thus far, Colorado public officials have failed to reconcile civil union statutes that are now outdated. Some, including State Sen. Pat Steadman, are concerned that there is an increasing number of couples that are in both a civil union and legal marriage, which would make any potential divorce incredibly complex. Essentially, these couples would need to dissolve two state-recognized relationships as part of the divorce process.

A follow-up measure, Senate Bill 16, was meant to clarify the issue of this overlap, but the bill failed to pass a state senate committee in late January. As reported by Denver's Fox 31, same-sex couples who are in both civil unions and legal marriages will likely need to turn to the courts to resolve matters related to divorce and alimony, as the complexity of the issue makes it difficult to finalize divorces through alternative dispute resolution methods like arbitration or mediation.

Same-sex marriage, divorce issues in Colorado

Now that same-sex marriage is legal in Colorado, there are many things couples should know about their new rights under state law. For now, couples are still able to receive civil unions if they want them, and these unions do not need to be dissolved before seeking a marriage license. However, if you are currently in a civil union with someone and wish to marry a different person, you should check with your county clerk for clarification.

As of October 7, 2014, married same-sex partners can enjoy all of the same legal benefits as any other married couple in Colorado, including those related to Social Security, tax deductions, child custody and other key matters. There is also no separate divorce process involved for same-sex couples - they now receive equal treatment under the law and must go through the same process.

Another important issue is that fact that the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear four new cases on same-sex marriage in March and April. In October 2014, the Supreme Court declined to rule on appeals of same-sex marriage rulings across the country, leaving many states with a great deal of uncertainty on whether or not these marriages would remain legal for the long term. Rulings on these new cases are likely to provide much more clarity on the future of same-sex marriage across the country, including in the Centennial State.

Although much progress has been made, there is a lot of work to be done to clarify Colorado's statutes on civil unions as they relate to legal marriage. If you and your partner have questions about the law and your legal rights, you should consult a knowledgeable Denver family law attorney for the guidance you need.

Keywords: Colorado, same-sex marriage, divorce