Does Connecticut still allow civil unions?

Not anymore. Connecticut completed its transition from civil unions to full marriage equality for same-sex couples in 2010.

Before the transition, Connecticut was the second state (Vermont was the first) to allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions, a legal status parallel to civil marriage under state law. However, in 2008, the Connecticut Supreme Court held that excluding same-sex couples from the institution of marriage violated the Connecticut Constitution (Kerrigan v. Comm’r of Pub. Health, 289 Conn. 135 (2008)). Following that decision, the Connecticut legislature passed Public Act 09-13, “An Act Implementing the Guarantee of Equal Protection Under the Constitution of the State for Same Sex Couples,” which provided a process for moving from a dual civil union and marriage system to a system in which only marriage is available. All existing Connecticut civil unions were converted into marriages on October 1, 2010.

If you have a civil union (or registered domestic partnership) from another state, Public Act 09-13 clarifies that Connecticut will grant you the same rights and benefits, and hold you to the same responsibilities, as a married couple in Connecticut.

What is domestic partnership?

Although it is a term used in many contexts, “domestic partnership” most often means a status which recognizes an unmarried couple and their children as a family for certain limited purposes, most commonly employee benefits. Some states, cities and towns have also enacted domestic partner laws.  In other contexts, “domestic partner” is also a shorthand term for family, replacing “lover,” “friend,” and “roommate.” Some people call cohabitation agreements “domestic partner agreements.” For further information see GLAD publications on domestic partnership at:

Does Connecticut provide same-sex domestic partner benefits to state employees?

Not any longer. Although Connecticut offered domestic partnership benefits for its state employees for several years, there was an agreement that when marriage became available to same-sex couples, benefits would only be available to married or civil union spouses. Beginning in November 2009, domestic partnership benefits were terminated.

Can cities and towns in Connecticut provide domestic partner health insurance benefits to their own employees?

Yes. For example, Hartford has a domestic partnership ordinance providing a means for couples to register as domestic partners (Hartford, CT Municipal Code, Chap. 2, Art. III, sec. 2-63 (2000)).

What kinds of domestic partner benefits may private employers provide?

Private employers may provide any benefits to domestic partners they wish – whether health insurance, family medical or bereavement leave, equal pension benefits, relocation expenses, access to company facilities, or any other benefit.

However, even when employers provide these benefits, federal laws sometimes treat domestic partner benefits differently from spousal benefits, often with financial consequences. For example, employees must pay federal income tax on a domestic partner’s health insurance benefits, but spousal benefits are exempt (see Internal Revenue Code, Private Letter Ruling 9603011 (Jan. 19, 1996)). Similarly, while spousal consent is required if a married employee decides to name a third party as a pension beneficiary or survivor benefits recipient, an employee with a domestic partner can change these designations freely.

Can I use the state non-discrimination law to force my employer to provide domestic partnership benefits?

This is an open question. On the one hand, Connecticut non-discrimination law says that an employer cannot discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in terms of compensation, and employee benefits are a form of compensation. But on the other hand, lawsuits in other states have largely failed with these types of claims on the grounds that all unmarried people – gay and non-gay alike – are barred from benefits, so there is no specific sexual orientation discrimination.

What steps can a couple take to legally safeguard their relationship in Connecticut?

There are various legal documents that can protect a couple’s relationship, regardless of whether the couple has no formal legal relationship or is already in a marriage.

  1. Relationship Agreement or Contract: A couple has the option of drafting a written cohabitation agreement, outlining their respective rights with regards to property, finances, and other aspects of their relationship. In 1987, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that a cohabitation agreement between an unmarried heterosexual couple was an express contract which could be enforced according to the ordinary rules of contract when the couple separated. There is every reason to believe that the same result will apply to the contract of a same-sex couple. While the court held that contracts could be oral or in writing, this ruling provides a great incentive for couples to sort out their affairs in writing before a separation.
  2. Document Designating a Non-Legally Related Adult to Have Certain Rights and Responsibilities: Connecticut law allows any adult to grant another adult the ability to make certain decisions on their behalf. Although the protections this law provides fall far short of those associated with marriage, they may provide some peace of mind for couples under a narrow set of circumstances.

To grant your partner (or anyone else) this decision-making power, you must sign, date, and acknowledge a designation document before a notary public and two witnesses. You can revoke the document at any time by destroying it or by executing a new document. The designation document must be honored in the following circumstances:

  • In The Workplace: If you experience an emergency and you or someone else calls your partner at work to inform them, their employer must notify them of the phone call.
  • In Court and Administrative Proceedings Involving Crime Victims: If you are the victim of a homicide, your partner is granted employment protection for missing work in order to attend court proceedings. Your partner is also entitled to request and receive advance notice of the terms of plea agreements with the perpetrator, to make a statement in court prior to the sentencing of the perpetrator, and to make a statement at parole hearings of the perpetrator. If your partner is wholly or partly dependent on your income, they may seek compensation from the Office of Victim Services.
  • In Automobile Ownership: If you own a car, your partner assumes ownership upon your death.
  • In Health Care Settings: If it comes time to make end of life decisions and your wishes are not written in a living will, your partner will be among those the doctor will consult regarding the removal of life support. Before removing life support, the doctor must make reasonable efforts to notify your partner. In addition, your partner has priority over all of your other representatives or family members when it comes to making anatomical gifts on your behalf, with the exception of a surviving spouse.
  • In Psychiatric Hospitals: Your partner is among the list of people who may consent to medical or surgical procedures for you, if you have been involuntarily admitted and are unable to consent yourself
  • In Nursing Homes: Finally, the act entitles your partner to (1) receive advance notice of involuntary, non-emergency room transfer, including Medicaid patients’ transfer into non-private rooms; (2) participate in any consultations prior to any contested transfer; (3) have private visits with you; and (4) organize and participate in patient social events or community activities. 

Other documents, discussed below, allow your partner to share financial, medical, and end of life decisions. The rights and responsibilities granted to your partner by the designation document discussed above overlap with some of those set forth in the documents discussed below. It is unclear how the law will handle these potential conflicts, and therefore any preference for who should carry out specific obligations should be clearly noted in all relevant documents.

  1. Power of Attorney: A couple can choose to grant each other the durable power of attorney, allowing one partner to make financial decisions on the other’s behalf in the event of incapacity or disability.

The law provides a “short form” which allows you to check off the kinds of transactions you wish your partner (your “attorney-in- fact”) to perform. These include: (a) real estate matters; (b) chattel and goods transactions; (c) bond, share and commodity transactions; (d) banking transactions; (e) business operating transactions; (f) insurance transactions; (g) estate transactions; (h) claims and litigation; (i) personal relationships and affairs; (j) benefits from military service; (k) records, reports and statements; and (l) all other matters designated by you, with the exception of health care decisions. Those can be delegated to a “health care representative,” a process described below.

The power of attorney can either become effective immediately or in the event of your incapacity, and it can have a short termination date, long termination date, or no termination date at all. It should be witnessed by two disinterested individuals and notarized. The notary may also serve as a witness. The power of attorney form must stay in your partner’s possession.

  1. Health Care Representative: A couple can also choose to appoint each other as health care representatives, allowing them to make medical decisions on one another’s behalf in the event of an emergency. You may state your preference about withdrawal of life support, types of medical care, anatomical gifts, or any other limits on your health care representative’s authority in the same document. The document must be executed and witnessed by two adults, and must be revoked the same way. If you have no health care representative, medical care providers will look to next- of-kin or any adult listed in your designation document (discussed above) to make medical decisions for you.
  1. Appointment of Conservator: You may also choose to appoint you partner as your conservator. A conservator manages your financial and/or daily affairs when you are no longer capable of managing them yourself, either because of old age or mental or physical incapacity. Note that all conservator nominations are subject to the scrutiny of the probate court at the time you are deemed incapable or incompetent.
  1. Will: Without a will, a deceased unmarried person’s property passes to: (1) their children; (2) their family, or; (3) if next of kin cannot be located, to the state. If you wish to provide for others, such as your partner, a will is essential. Even if you have few possessions, you can name in the will the person who will administer your estate.

In addition, if you have children, you can nominate their future guardian and “trustee for asset management” in the will. This nomination will be evaluated by the Probate Court.

  1. Funeral Planning Documents: Upon death, a person’s body is given to their spouse or their next of kin. This can mean that a person’s own partner has no right to remove the body, write an obituary, or make plans for a final resting place. To avoid this problem, you can create a document (witnessed and notarized) that designates the person you want to be able to have custody and control of your remains. Some people include these instructions as part of a will, but since a will may not be found for days after death, it is preferable to give the instructions directly to the person you want to take care of matters, as well as to family.

Does a person need an attorney to get these documents?

GLAD recommends working with an attorney on these documents.

Although forms are available, the form may not be suited to your individual needs and wishes. Moreover, an attorney may be able to better help effectuate your goals, for example, by drafting a will in a way which is more likely to deter a will contest by unhappy family members, or an appointment of a health care agent with very specific instructions. In addition, an attorney may help to navigate the legal uncertainties flowing from the areas of overlap between these documents. GLAD Answers can provide referrals to attorneys who are members of GLAD’s Lawyer Referral Service.

If an unmarried couple separates, what is the legal status of a relationship or partnership agreement/contract?

Upon separation, if the couple has a Relationship or Partnership Agreement/Contract, its terms will be invoked, and the couple’s assets will be divided as per the agreement. Without an agreement, unmarried couples may be forced to endure costly and protracted litigation over property and financial matters.

PLEASE NOTE: If you have changed your mind about who should be your “attorney-in-fact,” health care representative, beneficiary or executor under a will, funeral planner, conservator, or designee under a designation document, then those documents should be revoked—with notice to all persons who were given copies of those documents—and new documents should be prepared which reflect your present wishes.

What standards should same-sex couples with children who are breaking up maintain?

Same-sex couples with children who are breaking up should:

  1. Support the rights of LGBTQ+ parents;
  2. Honor existing relationships regardless of legal labels;
  3. Honor the children’s existing parental relationships after the break-up;
  4. Maintain continuity for the children;
  5. Seek a voluntary resolution;
  6. Remember that breaking up is hard to do;
  7. Investigate allegations of abuse;
  8. Not allow the absence of agreements or legal relationships to determine outcomes;
  9. Treat litigation as a last resort; and
  10. Refuse to resort to homophobic/transphobic laws and sentiments to achieve a desired result.

For more detailed information about these standards see the publication Protecting Families: Standards for LGBTQ+ Families at: Protecting Families: Standards for LGBTQ+ Families | GLAD