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What Is a Civil Union?

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What Is a Civil Union?

A "civil union" is a type of legal status offered to some couples at the state level. This confers a status that is the same or nearly as equal to that of marriage. At the same time, civil unions are not the same thing as marriages, as there may be technical and cultural differences associated with the two concepts.

Civil unions, as well as domestic partnerships, were often enacted to help same-sex couples have a legal relationship that offered some of the rights and responsibilities of marriage. Some states have done away with civil unions as part of legalizing same-sex marriage. These states include Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

Civil unions are now only available to couples in a handful of states:

  • Colorado: Allows civil unions for applicants over 18 who are unmarried, not in another civil union, and not related as siblings or aunt/uncle and niece/nephew.
  • Hawaii: Allows civil unions for applicants over 18 who are unmarried, not in another civil union or reciprocal beneficiary relationship, and not closely related. If a partner is supervised by a conservator or guardian, they must have that person’s consent to enter into the union.
  • Illinois: Allows civil unions for applicants over 18 who are unmarried, not in another civil union, and not blood relatives.
  • New Jersey: Allows civil unions for applicants over 18 who are unmarried, not in another civil union or domestic partnership, and of the same sex.  
  • Vermont: No longer allows civil unions, but recognizes civil unions granted in the state before same-sex marriage was legalized in the state.

What Types of Rights Are Associated with Civil Unions?

A couple that has been granted civil union status may enjoy many of the same rights as married couples, such as hospital visitation rights, property rights, access to some employment benefits, and adoption rights. These rights may vary by state.

Note that civil union rights only apply at the state level. Benefits under the federal government such as tax or social security benefits may not be available to couples in a civil union.

Can a Civil Union Be Dissolved?

Yes, and the process for dissolving a civil union is often very similar to the process for divorce. The couple would need to make an official filing with the court in order to have their civil union status terminated. Civil union dissolution can become quite complicated however in certain situations. For instance, if a couple received their civil union in one state, then moved to another one where civil unions are not recognized, they may have some difficulties in the process.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with a Civil Union?

You may wish to hire a family law lawyer if you are deciding whether to marry or enter into an alternative legal relationship, such as a civil union. An attorney can provide you with legal advice that can help clarify any questions you might have.

Photo of page author Alexis Watts

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 06-25-2018 08:26 PM PDT

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