For years, we have listened to debates in the media regarding whether Colorado should, or should not, allow civil unions. The debate ended on March 21, 2013, when the Governor signed into law the Colorado Civil Unions Act, Senate Bill 13-011. Starting May 1, 2013, Colorado will allow civil unions. Under the new law, persons of the same or different gender will be able to enter into legally recognized unions. As civil unions are designed to be similar to marriage and allow the partners to such similar rights, it stands to reason that the new law will also have an impact in the area of divorce law. As a Denver family law attorney, I have started researching the subject and the coming changes, not only to educate myself, but to also prepare our firm to start handling cases involving the break up of civil unions. Just like marriages, people come together and grow apart. Just like in marriages, people fight. Now, just like marriages, there will be a legal process to get people through those break ups in an orderly, and legal, fashion.
The new Act, which will primarily be contained in Colorado Revised Statues, Title 14, Article 15, is full of new definitions, rules, and procedures. The Act contains language defining a civil union, indicating who can legally enter into one, setting forth the legal process for effectuating a union, and setting forth how to get out of one. Divorce law is generally set forth in C.R.S. Title 14, Article 10. Commencing May 1, 2013, Article 10 will now contain Section 106.5, which specifically states that the procedure for dissolving a civil union will be the same as the procedure for seeking a Colorado divorce.
Likewise, the new statute indicates that partners to a civil union will have the same rights as parties in a divorce case, meaning they will now have a family oriented forum to deal with issues of alimony(maintenance), property division, debt division, and other issues people will generally fight over in a divorce. Prior to the Act, people in a non-marriage situation, whether same sex or not, have been forced to litigate dividing up property in a regular civil court setting; and there was no right to alimony. Now they will be afforded a forum with more of a family law flare.
Once the law goes into effect, people will need to apply for a civil union license and register it in their county of abode. Once done, the State of Colorado will recognize the union and confer rights to the partners that might otherwise not be conferred in a boyfriend-girlfriend, girlfriend-girfriend, or boyfriend-boyfriend relationship. For Denver area divorce lawyers, this will certainly mean a new area of litigation. At the same time, those attorneys will already be fully aware of the substantive body of law which will apply to the dissolution of a civil union. The Act does contain language indicating that a marriage is still between a man and a woman. Rights and rules will be gender blind.
Under current law, same sex couples, just as couples of differing genders, can already fight for their rights regarding child support, custody, visitation, etc. in the domestic relations courts and under the domestic relations laws. As such, my immediate perception is that the law will likely have little impact on those types of issues. At the same time, one cannot anticipate all potential issues which may arise. Without much language on these subjects contained in the Act, as relates specifically to family law, the courts will likely be left to clean up any ambiguities or ommisions made by the legislature. Time will tell.