Several states now allow civil unions for both same-sex and opposite-sex couples, including Colorado. Essentially, a civil union is a marriage in every way but name. Almost every law that applies to marriage also applies to civil unions. Domestic partnerships, however vary from civil unions greatly. It can be difficult to determine the differences in rights and characteristics between marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships. For help determining which of these is the best for you and your partner, talk with a family law attorney in Colorado; state laws make a difference when deciding what will be the best option.
Things to Know About Civil Unions:
Civil union laws are relatively new in the U.S. The courts treat these unions the same as marriages.
The law regards civil union partners as immediate family members on legally binding documents.
Civil union partners receive spousal employer benefits the same way that traditional spouses do, including healthcare, compensation, survivor benefits, unemployment coverage, and protection under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
In a court of law, civil union partners benefit from the same protection as married spouses have not to testify against one another, or reveal conversations between one another deemed confidential.
A civil union partner is a spouse for all purposes of probate proceedings, i.e. wills, inheritances, and family trusts.
Civil union partners can enter into pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements the same as couples in or entering into traditional marriage.
Civil union partners have the same right to presumption of paternity of a child as in a traditional marriage, even if there is no biological relationship.
A civil union partner is a spouse for the purposes of fostering or adopting. Civil union partners can adopt jointly, just as a married couple can.
A civil union partner can adopt the existing child of their partner through identical stepparent procedures to those used for traditionally married couples.
Colorado Civil Union Rights
Because the federal government does not recognize civil unions – nor do many states – civil union partners cannot receive federal benefits. These include federal income tax filing status, survivor benefits, federal retirement pensions, and spousal social security.
Part of the reason why the federal government doesn’t recognize civil unions is because of Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The Supreme Court overturned sections of DOMA that denied federal benefits to traditionally married same-sex couples who married in states where it is legal. However, this only applies to same-sex marriages, not same-sex or opposite-sex civil unions. Therefore, civil union partners receive no benefits under federal law, only on state-by-state basis. Many civil union couples are hopeful that this Supreme Court ruling will eventually change.
Civil Unions vs. Domestic Partnerships
Domestic partnerships are not synonymous with marriage in the same way as civil unions. While domestic partners have limited financial rights, including the right to receive a pension, receive a partner’s health insurance coverage, and file joint tax returns, that is essentially where the rights of a domestic partnership end. Domestic partnerships are not typically ceremonial, and need only to register at the local level in some places.
Though the differences between civil unions and domestic partnerships vary from state-to-state, civil unions provide more rights overall. This includes more state-based rights, more non-federal benefits similar to marriage, probate rights, shared debt responsibility, and shared rights to property, among other things.
Nonetheless, domestic partnerships provide some important rights. For instance, a domestic partner has the right to pursue damages after the wrongful death of his or her partner. Domestic partners also have the same right to privileged, private communications as married couples and couples in a civil union, meaning that they do not have to testify against one another.