Question: Now that the Colorado Civil Union Act has passed both houses of the General Assembly in Colorado, what will change?
Answer: The act will be sent to Gov. John Hickenlooper to sign this month, and once signed it will become law on May 1.
The 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, because it will not only provide a means of relationship recognition for same-sex couples but it will also provide a third form of relationship recognition for opposite-sex couples, in addition to traditional and common law marriage.
To have a valid civil union, the parties must be:
· Unrelated adults (over 18), regardless of the gender of each party;
· Neither party is part of another civil union; and
· Neither party is married to another person.
The act makes many changes to the Uniform Dissolution of Marriage Act, which is contained in Title 14, Article 10 of the Colorado Revised Statutes. Title 14, Article 10 outlines the rights and responsibilities of spouses 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 allocating parental responsibilities for children.
The Civil Union Act makes many changes to Title 14 to incorporate parties to civil unions. The most important changes are:
· 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 dissolving a relationship are now afforded to parties of civil unions.
· Parties to a civil union are responsible for the financial support of one another in the same manner as spouses. This means that the parties to a civil union are subject to an award of spousal maintenance, or alimony, should an award be deemed appropriate.
· Property of parties to a civil union will be divided in accordance with equity based on the contribution of each party to the acquisition of the property, the value of the property, 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.
· Parties to a civil union will be able to take advantage of the concept of “marital” vs.” non-marital” property (property acquired before or after a civil union, respectively).
Although 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.
One of the most important impacts of the Civil Unions Act pertains to 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, the adoption process for same-sex parents.
The act contains two very important changes:
· 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.
· 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.
The decision to enter into a civil union is a very personal decision for each family. It is important to discuss with your partner, your legal counsel, financial adviser and other trusted individuals whether a civil union is right for you.