Dissolving a civil union usually entails the same procedures as a divorce. There can be legal hurdles, possibly insurmountable, if a couple leaves the state in which they entered into their union. Civil unions are not recognized in every state, and dissolution may not be possible for partners in a civil union in a state that does not have civil unions.

However, in states in which civil union is still an option, dissolution may be available even to non-residents who entered into their union in the state and then subsequently left. The requirements for obtaining a dissolution from outside the state can be onerous, however.

Some states ceased offering civil unions when same-sex marriage became legal in 2015. Currently, there are only four states in which a couple can initiate a new civil union, and a fifth state in which older civil unions are still recognized, but no longer offered..

The status of dissolution of a civil union in those five states is as follows:

New Jersey

Dissolution of a New Jersey civil union is the same as a divorce, as long as at least one partner in the union has lived in New Jersey for at least one year before applying for the dissolution. For the most part, the same steps and criteria for dissolving or annulling a marriage apply as well to a civil union. This means that the provisions regarding alimony, division of the couple’s assets, child custody and child support all apply in the dissolution of a civil union. There is no provision for dissolution of a New Jersey civil union for parties who reside outside the state.

Illinois

The dissolution of a civil union in Illinois follows the same procedure as a divorce in Illinois. So, civil unions entered into in the State of Illinois can be dissolved, but only if at least one of the parties is a current resident of the state. There is no provision for obtaining a dissolution if the parties live outside of the State of Illinois and do not meet the current residency requirement.

Hawaii

The law in the State of Hawaii, treats dissolutions of Hawaii civil unions the same as a divorce. The person filing for the divorce must have lived in both the county in which the complaint for divorce is filed and in the State of Hawaii for at least six months. The parties must be in a valid civil union and will have to aver that their union is irretrievably broken. All of the issues that arise in a divorce can also be dealt with in a civil union divorce, e.g. child custody/visitation and child support, alimony, division of assets and debts and the rest.

Colorado

Civil union is still an option for all couples in Colorado. If partners in a civil union want to merge into a marriage, that is also possible.

Conveniently, if two people enter into a civil union in Colorado, Colorado retains jurisdiction for the purpose of any action relating to the civil union, including dissolution even if one or both of the partners in the union have left the state. Keep in mind that this applies only to a civil union that was entered into by the parties in Colorado.

This does mean that even if one or both of the parties have moved to a state that does not recognize civil unions, they can obtain a dissolution in Colorado. If the civil union was not entered into in Colorado, then one of the parties must have resided in the state for at least 91 days before filing for the dissolution.

The dissolution of civil unions in Colorado follows the same process as divorce. it is possible to get a dissolution, legal separation or an annulment of a civil union that was entered into in another state. Regardless of where the union was entered into, however, Colorado courts will follow the laws of Colorado in a dissolution, separation or annulment.

Also, it is important to note that if a person is receiving alimony as a result of a prior divorce, entering into a civil union will result in termination of the alimony.

Vermont

If a person is a member of a same-sex couple in a Vermont civil union, they may dissolve it through the Vermont family court in a process that is essentially the same as a divorce. 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, civil union is no longer available in Vermont. A same-sex couple may now get married in Vermont. However, Vermont has not converted existing civil unions into marriages. Despite the fact that Vermont no longer offers civil unions, the state maintains separate procedures for divorce and civil union dissolution.

Moreover, Vermont has a process for couples who no longer reside in the State of Vermont to dissolve their civil union in that state, but it is available only if the state in which they reside at the time of their dissolution does not recognize civil unions for the purpose of dissolution.

Specifically, civil union dissolution for non-residents of Vermont requires the following:

  • The state in which the parties to the union currently reside does not recognize the civil union for purposes of dissolution;
  • The parties do not have any minor children; and
  • The parties together must file the complaint for dissolution with a stipulation, or agreement, that resolves all issues in the dissolution. Both parties should sign the stipulation and its contents are specified by law.
  • Basically, the stipulation must include statements to the following effect:
    • Acknowledgement that the terms of the agreement are to be incorporated into a final order of the court regarding dissolution of the union;
    • No children who are currently minors were either born or adopted during the civil union;
    • Neither party’s state of residence recognizes the civil union for the purpose of dissolution, so dissolution is not available to them there;
    • The civil union was established in Vermont;
    • Grounds for dissolution exist. This usually involves stating that the parties have lived apart for at least six months and there is no reasonable probability of their resuming the union;
    • If either party wants to contest any of the issues relating to the dissolution, one of them must meet Vermont’s residency requirement for civil union dissolution and divorce. In other words, dissolution in Vermont is not available to parties who now live in another state if one of them wants to contest any issue, e.g. alimony;;
    • Neither party is the subject of an abuse prevention order with regard to the other party;
    • Each party has entered into the stipulation freely and voluntarily.

Unfortunately, if the parties cannot resolve all issues between themselves voluntarily, or if they have minor children or otherwise do not meet the requirements, dissolution in Vermont would not be available.

What About Dissolution in Other States?

Since most states do not recognize civil unions, it can be challenging to dissolve a civil union if a person has moved to a state in which civil unions are not recognized and dissolution is not available. The parties might have to resolve the issues involved in ending their union by themselves, possibly with the aid of an experienced family law lawyer.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Dissolve my Civil Union?

If you live in a state other than the five listed above, you may need to consult an experienced family law attorney to see whether your civil union is recognized in the state in which you live and if there is a procedure to dissolve a civil union entered into in another state.

It is possible that partners in a civil union would have to negotiate a resolution of their relationship and related issues themselves without the involvement of a court. This is because the state in which they live simply does not provide a legal procedure for dissolution of a civil union. In that case also, an experienced family law lawyer would be very helpful.