What is a domestic partnership? Why would a couple choose to register as domestic partners instead of getting married? There are a variety of reasons that they may choose to go with a domestic partnership in California versus legally getting married. On this webpage we go through the California laws regarding domestic partnerships through the the below topics, and cover why you would need to hire a domestic partnership lawyer.
- What is a Domestic Partnership?
- California Domestic Partnership Laws
- Who is Eligible for California Domestic Partnerships?
- Filing for a Declaration of Domestic Partnership
- Terminating a Registered Domestic Partnership (By summary dissolution)
- What Rights Do Legal Domestic Partners Have in California?
Reading this page is not a substitute for speaking with a family law attorney. If you have a question about your domestic partnership, contact a domestic partnership lawyer as soon as you can.
What is a Domestic Partnership?
How do you define domestic partnership? The California Family Law Code defines a domestic partnership as “two adults who have chosen to share one another’s lives in an intimate and committed relationship of mutual caring.” The main purpose of a domestic partnership is to enable same-sex couples, as well as some opposite-sex couples, to have the same rights, benefits, obligations and protections as married couples.
Not all states allow same-sex marriages; California state is one of several states that recognize same-sex domestic partnerships and grant equal treatment as married couples; however, federal law does not recognize these partnerships and therefore not all benefits, rights, protections, and/or obligations from California are applied at a federal level (i.e. federal tax filings).
California Domestic Partnership Laws
The California Domestic Partner Rights and Responsibilities Act of 2003 was put into effect on January 1, 2005, which extended the same benefits as well as responsibilities of married spouses to registered domestic partners. It defined domestic partnership. The purpose of this act is to give registered California domestic partners more of an equal standing as with married spouses. The benefits and responsibilities are fairly close, but California domestic partnerships do not have the same status or symbolic/social meaning of a marriage.
What is a domestic partnership good for? Below are several, but not all, of what California registered domestic partnerships provide a couple:
- File for state taxes as married couples do, for filing years 2008 and on (The federal government still does not recognize domestic partnerships, so the partners will have to file as unmarried individuals for federal tax returns.)
- The same state rights for married couples apply to registered California Domestic Partnerships, (whether the couple is together, split up, or one is deceased – the surviving partner of a deceased partner is entitled to the same rights, benefits and obligations as a surviving spouse.)
- Benefits including: inheritance, guardianship, health insurance, insurance, bereavement, sick leave, relocation, health, dental and vision insurance
- Right to proceed with adoption procedures of his/her partner’s children
- Rights to custody and visitation of his/her domestic partner’s children
- Right to make medical decisions for his/her domestic partner when he/she cannot (when a partner becomes mentally or physically incapacitated) In Re Domestic Partnership of Ribel and Nguyen
- Have visitation rights in the hospital
- Right to file for state disability on behalf of a partner
- Right to be appointed as a conservator and make decisions for legal & financial matters when a partner is mentally or physically incapacitated
- Right to sue on behalf of a partner in cases of wrongful death and infliction or emotional distress of a domestic partner
- Right to form or draft a will/trust for a domestic partner
- Right to paid leave to care for a seriously ill domestic partner or his/her children
- Right to live with a domestic partner in a senior citizen housing development
Who is Eligible for California Domestic Partnerships?
In order to file California domestic partnerships, there are requirements that must be met before the couple is eligible for this relationship status. Our domestic partnership lawyer has compiled the eligibility requirements.
- Must live together; ownership of additional residences is possible, but the two must be residing in a common residence
- Neither of the individuals involved are married to someone else or are part of another registered domestic partnership, in which has not been terminated, dissolved, or nulled.
- The two individuals are not related by blood, or have a familial relationship that would prevent them from getting married to each other in California.
- Both people are at least 18-years old
- One of the following must apply:
- Both people are of the same sex
- OR the couple s heterosexual and at least one of them is 62 years old or older and eligible for social security benefits.
In addition, each person must be in a state of mind that allows them to consent to the domestic partnership. Obviously, a dead person or someone who is mentally incapacitated cannot consent to registering as a domestic partner.
Filing for a Declaration of Domestic Partnership
As long as both individuals are eligible (by meeting the requirements as listed in the previous section, they can file for a Declaration of Domestic Partnership with the Secretary of State. Domestic partnerships in California are different than marriage licenses, in regards to where you need to file. County courts can process marriage licenses and the California Secretary of State ‘s office processes filings for Declarations of Domestic Partnership.
To file a domestic partnership in California, the couple must submit either a Declaration of Domestic Partnership form or a Confidential Declaration of Domestic Partnership form (A confidential filing is a permanent record that only the registered domestic partners can request a copy of). The filing fee is $10 for opposite-sex couples and $33 for same-sex couples. The reason that same-sex couples pay $23 more is because the additional costs go to supporting the development and training curriculums that are specific to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender domestic abuse support service providers who serve that community (in regards to domestic violence). To get more information on where to send the form, visit the Secretary of State website here.
Terminating a Registered Domestic Partnership (By summary dissolution)
To terminate a domestic partnership that is registered in California can also be done by filing a termination form with the Secretary of State’s office. In order to be able to file a Notice of Termination of Domestic Partnership, there are several conditions that must be met at the time of filing:
- Both partnership must have signed the document
- There are no children (born or adopted) from the registered domestic partners, before or after the registration for the domestic partnership
- The registered partnership is no more than 5-years long
- There is no interest from either party in any real property, with the exception of the lease of a property that one or both parties are living in. If there is a leased property involved, the following requirements must be met:
- If applicable, the lease of a property does not include the option to purchase
- The lease ends within 1 year from the date that the couple filed the Notice of Termination of Domestic Partnership
- The debt is not more than $6,000, from the date that the couple registered the domestic partnership (car loans are not included)
- Have less than $41,000 worth of property that was acquired between the two parties, from the date of registration (Cars are not included)
- Neither party wants partner support from the other
- Have an agreement signed, regarding dividing of property (including cars) and any community debts OR have a signed agreement saying that there is no community property or debt to divide
If you and your partner do not qualify for a summary dissolution of the registered domestic partnership, then a regular divorce will be needed to terminate the partnership. In this case, you should talk to a divorce lawyer who can help you with settlement of the divorce or with court proceedings.
Should You Hire a Domestic Partnership Lawyer?
Filing to register as domestic partners in California seems fairly straightforward can get complicated. You should consult with a California domestic partnership lawyer before you take any action. If you’re still wondering, “what is a domestic partnership?” you should most definitely hire an attorney.
Other reasons to consult with a domestic partnership lawyer include if you want to dissolve your domestic partnership. That can get complicated. If you are being discriminated against at work by your employer (not allowing you benefits that you are entitled to such as leave to take care of a seriously ill domestic partner) it would be wise to call a law firm.
Making sure that you are registered correctly as domestic partners in California will give you rights to the benefits listed in the above sections. Give our domestic partnership lawyer a call today for a phone consultation to see how we can help you with any legal issue dealing with domestic partnership.