What Is A Domestic Partnership?

It is important to know your rights as a couple and as an individual. The point of the domestic partnership law is to eliminate some of the legal and economic hardship that applies to a non-married couple who are in a long term relationship. This is due to the fact that community property benefits and various statutes would not normally apply to these couples, however a domestic partnership makes it legally so.

Today, several states and hundreds of municipalities, counties, private companies, colleges, and universities offer domestic partnership benefits. It remains an option for partners, whether same or opposite sex, who live together and share a common domestic life. While the complete list is extensive, the benefits provided by each are not. Some locations will only provide bereavement benefits to domestic partners. Others may offer the same rights as legally married couples. The following is a general overview of domestic partnerships, with focus on registration and benefits. 

What States Offer Domestic Partnerships

After marriage equality became law in 2015, many states and employers stopped offering domestic partnerships. Some states, however, recognize that not all couples want to get married, so they still provide some benefits to committed couples. Domestic partnership rules and regulations are constantly evolving and changing, so it’s imperative to check with a professional for the most up-to-date information about benefits made available to you in your state.

In California, Connecticut, District of Columbia (D.C.), Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington State, domestic partnerships are still available to couples and are regulated by the state government. The list of available benefits varies, but most offer some or all the same rights and responsibilities as marriage.

It’s important to understand your state’s specific requirements before you apply for a domestic partnership. For example, some states limit domestic partnership registration to same-sex couples, while others include opposite-sex couples, if at least one partner is over the age of 62. Other states, like Colorado, Hawaii, and Illinois continue to allow civil unions, which offer almost all the benefits of marriage.

In some states, like Michigan, couples will find domestic partnership registration and benefits in a few municipalities, counties, and organizations, but this does not apply statewide. For example, the state of Michigan doesn’t recognize domestic partnerships, but if you live in the cities of Ann Arbor or Detroit, you can register for a domestic partnership if you’re at least 18 years old, not related by blood, not already married, and in a relationship of mutual support, caring, and commitment. This is why it is very important to stay up to date on your state’s domestic partnership laws and to check if your company offers benefits.

How to Register

Depending on where you live, you can register with your employer, local government, or the state. In most states, you will need to begin by filling out an application and signing it in front of witnesses. You will also need to go to a notary public who will use ID or passport to verify the couple’s identities. When you complete your application, you will file it and pay a filing fee, which varies depending on where you live.

Benefits of Domestic Partnership

It is important to note that many of the benefits of community property do NOT apply to domestic partners. Nevertheless, as seen below, the benefits available for registered domestic partners in California can be quite significant and appropriate for your situation. The most common benefits that you may receive include:

  • Sick Leave
  • Bereavement Leave
  • Health, Vision, Dental Insurances
  • Inheritance Rights
  • Death Benefits
  • Visitation Rights in Hospitals and Jails
  • Power of Attorney
  • Life and Accident Insurance 
  • Parental Leave
  • Adoption Benefits
  • Housing Rights

An important point to remember about domestic partnerships is that some employers offer benefits to employees in a domestic partnership even if the state doesn’t recognize the relationship. Therefore, you could be missing out on incredibly helpful benefits from your employer, so always check in and see what their requirements for benefits are. For more information on those benefits, you should contact your employer’s human resources department. 

Difference Between Marriage and Domestic Partnerships

The key differences between a domestic partnership and a marriage pertain to the rights given with each. Married couples can transfer assets to one another without paying gift taxes or estate taxes. That is not the case with domestic partners. 

Because domestic partnerships may not be recognized in certain states, counties, or countries, that means that domestic partners are not given the same protections as married partners. There can be issues with insurance, pension benefits, and social security benefits that must be considered among domestic partners.
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