History was made in El Paso County, Colorado, this summer when a same-sex couple was granted a divorce. Although gay couples cannot marry in the state, the new civil union law does allow gay couples who were married in other states to get divorced, provided they comply with the law’s requirements. As the right of same-sex couples to marry has been approved in a number of states throughout the country, couples who have tied the knot in those jurisdictions have struggled with the fact that, if they move out of that state, they may not be able to file for divorce in the state to which they relocated. Under Colorado’s civil union law, which took effect on May 1, same-sex couples now know with certainty that if their relationship does not survive, they have the option to divorce in Colorado.The marriage at issueJuli Yim and Lorelei Jones, the couple whose divorce made headlines across the state as well as the nation, got married in Massachusetts in 2009, which was the first state to legally recognize same-sex marriages in 2004. According to the Coloradoan, the married couple began to have troubles early on. Yim moved to Colorado while Jones stayed on the East Coast. Once in Colorado, Yim reconnected with a woman she had known since high school. As their relationship progressed and they began to talk of commitment, Yim sought to divorce Jones.Since neither partner to the marriage lived in Massachusetts any longer, the women could not file for divorce there. However, as the Colorado civil union legislation proceeded to become law, Yim realized that she would be eligible to file for the dissolution of her marriage under its provisions. When the law took effect on May 1, hundreds of couples lined up at county clerks’ offices across the state to join in civil unions; Yim was one of two Colorado petitioners seeking to take advantage of the dissolution process available under the law. Her petition was granted in late July.Dissolution under the new law
The dissolution procedure permitted under the civil union law provides the same protections as a divorce. There is a requirement that one of the individuals involved in the marriage, domestic partnership or civil union, must have resided in Colorado for at least 90 days. The dissolution will encompass the same issues as a divorce, including property division, financial responsibility between the former spouses, and child custody and support.
Yim plans to marry her current partner in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage. The civil union law in Colorado recognizes same-sex marriages and civil unions from other jurisdictions. The couple then plans to take advantage of another provision of the new law: a second-parent adoption will allow Yim to share legal responsibility for her girlfriend’s children once the two women are married.
Because the civil union law is still new, it will take some time for courts to work out its implications. If you have questions about civil unions or dissolutions, a family law attorney can provide more information about the new legislation.