When Is a Civil Union Not a Marriage? When You’re Trying to Get Divorced!

By Carrie E. Kelly
Managing Attorney, Domestic Relations Division
The Gasper Law Group, PLLC

Interracial gay couple going through relationship problems

When Colorado began allowing same sex couples to enter into a civil union, there was a general attempt to extend similar benefits and protections to same sex couples that extended to married couples, but there was a fairly significant and perhaps unanticipated gap: the right to get divorced.

The Colorado courts were allowed to issue a “Dissolution of Civil Union,” but not a “Dissolution of Marriage.” And for most intents and purposes this was enough, but for military members and their partners it created a significant problem. The military has taken the unfortunate position that people who are married must get un-married, and getting un-civil union is not the same thing. So if a same sex couple got married in a state allowing same sex marriages and then moved to Colorado, Colorado could only give them a Dissolution of Civil Union, not a divorce. As far as the military was concerned, this meant the unfortunate couple was still married.

In early October 2014, a number of cases challenging the constitutionality of Civil Unions as an alternative to same sex marriage made their way through the courts of appeals and ended with the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court declined to accept the cases for further review which practically means that the appeals court level decisions become the law of the land. Based on the rulings from the appeals courts, Colorado began issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples on October 7, 2014.

Although the right to be divorced was not addressed in any of the cases, it is the next logical conclusion that where the State of Colorado recognizes same sex marriages, the courts must be capable of dissolving those same marriages.

On October 29, 2014, the Gasper Law Group represented its first client to the successful resolution of a Dissolution of Marriage for a same sex couple who had been previously married in another state where neither was still eligible to file for divorce.

Whether or not you need a Dissolution of Marriage or Civil Union is a question that should be evaluated by a competent attorney. The Gasper Law Group would be pleased to meet with you to discuss the options available to you in your case.