Colorado Civil Union Act: Is there a difference between a civil union and marriage?

The Denver Post has a fairly extensive article covering the recently-passed “Colorado Civil Union Act” that’s headed for Governor Hickenlooper’s desk. As the Denver Post headline notes a civil union for a same-sex couple is different from marriage. That difference is non-existent for Colorado domestic-relations law.

The Civil Union Act provides that a civil union in Colorado will be treated essentially the same as marriage for purposes of a dissolution, separation or annulment. For example, a same-sex couple contemplating a civil union can enter into a pre-nuptial agreement. See C.R.S. 14-15-108. Colorado case law interpreting marital agreements will apply to agreements relating to civil unions. C.R.S. 14-2-307.5. And a divorce between same-sex couples will be treated the same as a dissolution of marriage of a man and woman in Colorado. See C.R.S. 14-10-106.5 & 14-15-115.

Nevertheless, we will have to wait and see whether the Colorado courts interpret the Civil Union Act differently for purposes of parenting rights, disposition of property, maintenance and the like. There will likely be some unintended consequences and wrinkles in the law that will crop up in the future.

The other interesting legal issues are noted below:

·         There’s a privilege for communications between same-sex partners. See C.R.S. 13-90-107.

·         Same-sex partners are now entitled to damages for wrongful death, emotional distress and other personal-injury claims. 

·         Probate and estate-planning aspects for civil unions are also treated fairly similar as a marriage between a man and woman.

·         A right to claim a homestead exemption or seek protection against attachment, execution and garnishment of property.

UPDATE (March 21): The Civil Union Act was signed into law today by Governor Hickenlooper.

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