In 2009, Colorado began to offer “designated beneficiary agreements” to couples, with the notion of providing certain rights to same-sex couples that they were otherwise denied. These arrangements provided some, but not all, of the rights associated with marriage in the state of Colorado. In order to qualify for this type of arrangement, couples must be:

  • Unmarried
  • At least 18 years of age
  • Competent to enter into a contract
  • Not a party to another designated beneficiary agreement
  • Voluntarily entering into the agreement without fraud, force, or duress

What Rights Are Associated with Designated Beneficiary Agreements?

Designated beneficiary agreements have the power to confer some rights and responsibilities upon each of the parties to the agreement. Since each agreement is unique, the rights and responsibilities vary from agreement to agreement. There are 16 possible rights that can be conferred, including those related to property, trusts, retirement and pension plans, insurance, hospital visitation rights, and inheritance issues. These rights and responsibilities are much more limited than those that would be available in a marriage. However, for some couples, this alternative to marriage may be ideal.

Civil Unions in Colorado

In 2013, Colorado made civil unions available to all couples. In order to qualify for a civil union, couples must be:

  • 18 years of age, or have the consent of a parent or legal guardian
  • Unmarried and not in a civil union with another person
  • Not related as siblings or as uncle/aunt and niece/nephew

What Rights Are Associated with Civil Unions?

Civil unions in Colorado provide many rights and responsibilities for couples. These include:

  • Financial support of a partner
  • The ability to adopt the child of a partner
  • Inheritance rights
  • The ability to insure a partner
  • Hospital visitation
  • Eligibility for family leave benefits

However, Colorado civil unions do not confer all of the rights and responsibilities that married couples receive. Entering into a civil union does not affect certain federal benefits and the partnership may not be recognized in all other states or countries.

Does the Legalization of Same-Sex Marriage Affect Civil Unions and Designated Beneficiary Agreements?

In 2014, a US Supreme Court decision made same-sex marriage legal in Colorado, meaning that same-sex couples were no longer limited to civil unions and designated beneficiary agreements if they wished to have their partnership recognized by the state and to obtain some of the same rights and responsibilities as married couples. Designated beneficiary agreements and civil unions are still available in Colorado as alternatives to marriage.

Do I Need an Attorney?

There are significant differences between marriage, a civil union, and a designated beneficiary agreement under Colorado law. A Colorado attorney will be able to explain both to you and help you decide which best meets your needs as a couple.