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Civil Union v/s Marriage: What’s the Difference

Difference between a civil union and marriage

Civil unions are separate legal statuses that are available in some states. These states, unlike federal laws, tend to provide most of the benefits afforded to married couples in the state. These legally recognized relationships developed to primarily provide same-sex couples with some degree of legal recognition prior to the legal advances in 2015 (that legalized same-sex marriages on a federal level). Although same-sex marriages became legal in the US, there are still couples who desire to engage a civil union, as opposed to marriage.

Civil unions v/s marriages, both are separate but there are three primary differences that you should know. Read on.

1. Marriages are recognized in all states, whereas civil unions are not. In fact, when recognized as a civil union in one state, once a couple crosses state lines, there is no guarantee that their civil union will be recognized in the other state.

2. Marriages have the rights to enjoy both state and federal benefits afforded to legally married couples, whereas civil unions are limited to those state rights and benefits afforded to them in the states recognizing civil unions. Thus, couples in a civil union are not able to enjoy the federal benefits afforded to legally married couples.

3. Married couples wishing to divorce may do so in any state in which they have residency, whereas civil unions are subject to having to establish residency in a state that recognizes civil unions.

In addition to these primary differences, couples wishing to enter a civil union should also consider:

  • When completing a legal document, contract, etc., it is important not to misrepresent themselves as being married. Although you may view your relationship as a legal couple, misrepresenting yourself as married can lead to legal issues such as fraud, thus resulting in serious consequences.
  • As noted above, civil unions are not afforded the same federal benefits as couples who are legally married. This includes not only taxes, but other areas as pensions, insurances for families, and Medicaid.
  • Civil unions have predominantly been used by same sex couples, thus often carrying a negative, unequal status. Although marriage has now been made legal in the United States, those couples seeking civil unions may still be viewed in the same, inequitable manner.

The Legal Definition of Civil Union

A civil union is a non-marriage relationship between two people that is recognized in some states and subsequently may be afforded legal protections in that state. Unlike marriage, civil unions don’t enjoy the same benefits, responsibilities, legal obligations and federal protections as married couples. Historically, civil unions were created in 2000 to provide same-sex couples an alternative to marriage in some states.

Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois and New Jersey still distinguish civil unions from marriage. While Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island and Vermont subsequently converted all civil unities to legal marriages.