Dissolving a Civil Union

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How Do I Dissolve a Civil Union?

Although dissolving a civil union usually follows the same procedures as a divorce, the legal hurdles between the two are enormous. Every state in America recognizes heterosexual marriage and can thus grant divorces. Same-sex couples, however, have a variety of different classifications for legal recognition of their relationship. Civil unions differ from domestic partnerships. Each confers a different degree of legal rights, which makes it impossible for a state which doesn’t have that legal category to dissolve that status. This can create many complications in the legal process if the couple moves out of the state after forming a specific relationship status.

For example, a couple from South Carolina goes to New Jersey to obtain a civil union. The couple receives the decree, but moves to Maine to find work. The couple later breaks up, but Maine cannot divorce them because Maine, despite having a domestic partnership program, does not see their civil union as valid. The couple cannot leave Maine to fulfill the dissolution residency requirements of New Jersey because of work, leaving them in legal limbo with regards to the legal status of their relationship.


If you are a same-sex couple with a Vermont civil union, you may dissolve it through the Vermont family court in a process that is essentially the same as a divorce. Vermont law provides that the dissolution of civil unions follows the same procedures and is subject to the same substantive rights and obligations that are involved in the dissolution of marriages.  Like divorce in Vermont, dissolution of a civil union has residency requirements.  In order for a court to dissolve a civil union, one of the parties must have lived in Vermont for a period of one year.

It should be noted that as of 2009, Vermont has ceased issuing civil unions and is now offering marriage licenses to same-sex couples instead. However, Vermont has not converted civil unions into marriages. Despite the fact that Vermont no longer offers civil unions, the state maintains separate procedures for divorces and dissolutions.


The dissolution of a Connecticut civil union is exactly the same as a divorce in Connecticut. However, Connecticut has strict residency requirements for the dissolution of a civil union. In order to dissolve a civil union in Connecticut one party must have been a Connecticut resident for at least one year; or one party must have been a Connecticut resident at the time of the civil union and now has returned to Connecticut with an intention, before filing the complaint, of permanently remaining in Connecticut; or the cause for dissolution arose after either party moved into Connecticut. 

New Jersey

Dissolution of a New Jersey civil union is the same as a divorce. The residency requirement in New Jersey is that at least one person in the civil union must have lived in New Jersey for at least one year prior to the application for termination of the union.


The dissolution of a civil union in Illinois follows the same procedure as a divorce in Illinois. So, civil unions formed in the state can be dissolved provided that at least one of the parties is a current resident of the state.

New Hampshire

In 2011, New Hampshire legalized same-sex marriage and has converted all civil unions made in the state into marriages. As such, same-sex couples wishing to end their relationship in New Hampshire should use the state’s divorce procedure. Both persons in the marriage must be residents of New Hampshire and the spouse filing for divorce must have resided in the state for at least one year.


Hawaii has only recently recognized civil unions in 2012. Although the procedure for dissolution of a Hawaiian civil union is the same as a divorce, six months of residency, it is not clear yet if Hawaii will recognize and dissolve civil unions outside the state.


Family Law Courts in Delaware may hear actions for dissolving a civil union from both residents and non-residents, provided that the civil union originated in Delaware and that the state in which non-residents live do not permit the dissolution.

Rhode Island

The requirement for obtaining dissolution of a civil union in Rhode Island is a one year residency for either spouse. This requirement applies to non-residents.

What About Other States?

Since most states do not recognize civil unions, for many same-sex couples it is difficult to satisfy the residency requirements in the state in which they obtained the civil union, notably in Vermont and Connecticut. 

Do I Need a Lawyer to Dissolve my Civil Union?

To successfully dissolve a civil union, you should contact a family law attorney to guide you through the process. An experienced family law attorney can be especially useful as the dissolution of civil unions is a new and evolving legal field. Same-sex couples who do not meet the residency requirements may have resort to other options.

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Last Modified: 08-05-2014 02:45 PM PDT

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