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Family & Divorce Law

Domestic Partnerships vs Marriage in Colorado

By Tolison & Williams / December 6, 2020

Tying the knot is a major decision. Understandably, not every couple would want to rush into getting legally wedded, especially considering that the possibility of a future divorce process could get tricky. Still, they may want to formalize their long-term relationships to be more than just a couple. In Colorado, the law offers a good alternative to marriage in such cases — a domestic partnership. 

What is a Domestic Partnership (Civil Union)?

A domestic partnership (also named civil union) is a legal arrangement in which two people affirm that they are in a mutually supportive, caring, and committed relationship. 

Any unmarried person aged above 18 can enter into a domestic partnership in Colorado with another person (regardless of gender), as long as they are not related to one another. Essentially, the criteria are the same as for getting a legal marriage. 

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How to Register as a Domestic Partner in Colorado 

You aren’t part of a domestic partnership simply because you live with your significant other. Instead, you have to register your partnership with the state of Colorado. To do this, both of you must be present at your county’s Clerk & Recorder Office.

Note: Considering the ongoing healthcare situation, some county offices such as one in Boulder, Co, also hold virtual domestic partnership registration sessions. 

Here's how to file for a domestic partnership from there:

  • Schedule an appointment with the clerk. 
  • Bring an ID document with a picture. 
  • Provide proof of shared address for each person (e.g. utility bill or bank statement)
  • Pay the $25 registration fee. 

These are all the documents you need for becoming domestic partners. The clerk will add your records to the database and issue two copies of a domestic partnership certificate. The first copy is for you and your partner to keep. The second is kept on record at the county government offices.

How to Terminate a Domestic Partnership

Like any other relationship, at some point, you may wish to end your domestic partnership. Doing this is much simpler than getting divorced in a legal marriage. 

To officially terminate the partnership, you have to submit a notice of termination to the same registrar's office where your partnership was recorded. You can do so by mail or in person. The termination processing also requires a fee of $25. Both partners must be present. However, an exception will be made if one partner can prove they made a reasonable attempt at contacting the other.

Additionally, a domestic partnership automatically ends when one of you no longer meets the criteria for entering into a domestic partnership. This includes no longer living together or entering into a marriage with another person.

How is a Domestic Partnership Different From Marriage?

A domestic partnership has several similarities to a legal marriage. First, you can file joint taxes and receive a partner's pension. In some cases, you may also be entitled to insurance benefits. A domestic partner may also pursue damages in a wrongful death case if their partner dies. Lastly, the communication between a couple in a domestic partnership is legally privileged. That is where the similarity to marriage ends. 

Here are the ways in which a domestic partnership differs from marriage:

  • Cannot automatically inherit assets without paying a tax penalty.
  • Cannot use their relationship to petition for an immigration status change.
  • May not have their relationship recognized by other states.
  • Do not jointly own assets automatically.

To offset these differences, consider contacting a Colorado family law attorney. They can help you create extra pre-partnership documents that would entitle your partner to extra rights. 

When is Domestic Partnership Better Than Marriage?

While marriage does confer more benefits, sometimes a domestic partnership is the better "starter" choice. Couples who wish to establish a legally committed relationship, but keep their finances and assets separate might consider a domestic partnership. These partnerships are also a good option for people who want to be able to terminate their relationship with few complications if things don't work out. 

Lastly, domestic partnership is often a choice among long-term couples who don’t wish to get wedded for personal reasons, but still want to ensure that their couple status is recognized at least to some extent. If you have any questions about starting or terminating your legal relationship, the experts at Tolison and Williams can help!

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Tags: Divorce Family Law

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