In 2003, Denver-resident Dean LaFleur had a commitment ceremony with his then boyfriend as a way to celebrate their relationship. He was reluctant to do it, but figured it wouldn’t really matter seeing as same-sex marriage wasn’t legal in Colorado. But now, a county divorce court judge is saying that LaFleur’s Colorado commitment ceremony constituted a legally binding marriage. LaFleur has since had to legally divorce his ex-boyfriend and is being forced to pay him four years of spousal support even though Colorado didn’t legalize same-sex marriage until 2014.
LaFleur had been in an on-again off-again relationship with his now ex-boyfriend for the past 15 years. He admits that he financially supported his boyfriend, paying the mortgage and utility bills, but says they never filed any joint tax returns or shared ownership of cars, property, health insurance or anything else that a court might constitute proof of a common-law marriage.
(A common-law marriage is a legal status, recognized in only a handful of U.S. states, that grants marital status to long-term cohabiting couples whose domestic and financial relationships are more or less indistinguishable from that of a legally married couple.)
LaFleur, a former Navy fighter pilot, dumped his boyfriend in 2017, and afterwards his boyfriend sued for financial support even though his boyfriend had been dating another man for over a year.
First Judicial District Judge Margie Enquist looked at images of LaFleur’s commitment ceremony and concluded that he and his ex were legally married. (Enquist said definitively that they weren’t common-law married.) LaFleur then legally divorced his ex and was forced by the court to pay his ex four years worth of spousal support payments
Though LaFluer doesn’t have the financial ability to contest the ruling, he’s sharing his story in the hopes that a lawyer will help him file an affordable appeal within the next month.
He says that the court ruling could set a dangerous precedent where any gay couple who had any sort of commitment ceremony at any point in time could also be called legally married and, thus, vulnerable to divorce and alimony proceedings.
What do you think of Dean LaFleur’s Colorado commitment ceremony predicament?
Feature image via Westword.com