Domestic Partnership in California

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 What Is a Registered Domestic Partnership in California?

Domestic partnerships are relationships between two individuals who reside together and who share common domestic responsibilities, for example, caring for family members who reside in their home and maintaining their living space. Domestic partnerships were created to recognize same-sex marriage.

Many states, however, abolished domestic partnerships when same-sex marriage was legalized in 2015. Despite the reduction in use, there are a handful of states that recognize domestic partnerships regardless of the sexual orientation of the partners.

Individuals in domestic partnerships enjoy many of the same rights as married couples. However, domestic partnership laws and rights may vary widely among the states that recognize this nonmarital status.

Rights and benefits that are afforded to domestic partnerships may include:

  • Housing rights;
  • Death benefits;
  • Parental leave;
  • Spousal benefits, such as:
    • Health;
    • Vision; and
    • Dental insurance.

One consistency among states that authorize domestic partnerships is that the federal government does not grant domestic partners the same tax benefits that are provided to couples that are married. In addition, there are certain states that require domestic partners to register in order to verify their legal status, which makes them eligible to receive benefits under domestic partnership laws.

In contrast to a marriage, this process does not require any type of official ceremony to formalize the relationship. However, it requires the parties to sign a declaration and file the required documents with the Secretary of State.

Who Can Register for a Domestic Partnership?

In California, both same-sex couples and heterosexual couples can register for a domestic partnership as long as they meet the requirements, which include:

  • Both of the individuals have voluntarily consented to be involved in the domestic partnership;
  • Neither of the individuals can be involved in another marriage or other relationship that is pending dissolution;
  • The individuals cannot be related by blood or in another way that would prevent them from being legally married in the State of California;
  • Both individuals must be at least 18 years old and capable of consenting to the domestic partnership; and
  • If an individual is under 18 years old but otherwise meets all other requirements, they may still register if they obtain consent from both their parents and the court;
    • They will have to file the court order and a Declaration of Domestic Partnership with the California Secretary of State.

How to Register for Domestic Partnership?

Once the individuals determine that they have met all of the requirements listed above, they can register for a domestic partnership by filing a Declaration of Domestic Partnership with the California Secretary of State. It is important to note that both of the parties are required to sign the forms.

It is not necessary for the parties to complete a separate affidavit of domestic partnership in California. Instead, the form itself will serve as the affidavit, which means that the signatures of both partners must be notarized.

The partners will be required to pay the mandatory filing fees associated with the Declaration of Domestic Partnership. The amount will vary depending on the ages of the partners and any applicable handling and certification fees.

If an individual has any questions about or needs assistance with registering as a domestic partnership, they should consult with a local California attorney.

How Long Does It Take To Get a Domestic Partnership?

How long it takes to get a domestic partnership will vary depending on how an individual completes the process. There are offices in Sacramento and Los Angeles where the process can be completed, which typically occurs that day.

If, however, the individuals complete the process by mail, the length of time may vary. There is a link on the website where individuals can check the status of their declaration.

What Is the Difference Between Marriage and Domestic Partnerships?

There are three main differences between marriages and domestic partnerships, including:

  • Married couples are entitled to more rights and benefits than domestic partners;
    • They can file federal joint tax returns;
  • Marriage is legally recognized in every U.S. state, but domestic partnerships are only recognized in a handful of states;
    • This means that domestic partners will not receive the same protections as their married counterparts;
  • Certain benefits and insurance policies do not apply to domestic partnerships and may only be used by married couples.

Some advantages of domestic partnerships include:

  • They allow individuals the freedom of choosing to be together while still retaining some benefits without having to formally get married;
  • Because domestic partners cannot file their taxes jointly, they avoid the marriage tax penalty;
  • Some domestic partners do not have to obtain a divorce to terminate the partnership if they meet the requirements;
  • Individuals might want to avoid multiple marriages or religious connections to marriage. In that case, they can file for a domestic partnership without the requirement of holding a ceremony in order to formalize their relationship.

Do I Need to Be a California Resident to Register?

Individuals in a domestic partnership do not have to be California residents to register for a domestic partnership in the state. The parties may meet all of the requirements, however, and file in accordance with the law, but the state where they reside does not recognize the legal status. In this case, they will not be permitted to receive any benefits or rights that are associated with domestic partnerships.

How Do I Terminate a Domestic Partnership?

Terminating a domestic partnership is done in the same manner as dissolving a marriage. In other words, the individuals are required to file for termination in court by completing the required forms and attending court proceedings where the court will issue a final order that grants the termination. This is not the only option for terminating a domestic partnership, however. If the parties meet the requirements, they may also use a process called summary dissolution.

In order to qualify for a summary dissolution, the individuals must meet the following requirements:

  • The domestic partnership must not have been registered for more than five years on the date they file for termination;
  • Both parties must desire to terminate the relationship;
  • There are no children involved, including any born or adopted, and neither of the parties is currently pregnant;
  • They do not have any community or separate property that is worth more than $43,000;
    • Motor vehicles are not included;
  • They do not own any portions of a building or of land;
  • Neither partner has been in debt for more than $6,000 since entering the relationship, excluding vehicle loans;
  • They agree that they will not request financial support from one other;
  • They must sign an agreement confirming all of the above and list how they intend to divide their property, assets, debts, etc.; and
  • Various other requirements that are listed on the website for the California Courts.

If the individuals satisfy all of these requirements, they may file a Notice of Termination of Domestic Partnership with the California Secretary of State. Once this notice is filed, the domestic partnership will automatically end six months after the day the notice was filed.

If the individuals change their minds within the six-month period, they must complete and file a Revocation of Termination of Domestic Partnership form with the California Secretary of State. If, however, only one of the partners desires to revoke the termination and the other partner wishes to terminate the relationship, they will no longer be eligible for summary dissolution and will have to obtain a divorce instead.

The community property system will be used in the event of a divorce, just like married parties. This means that the individuals will be required to divide community property equally, and they may be able to ask a court to intervene in disputes over shared property.

Do I Need an Attorney to Help Me Get a Domestic Partnership?

Even though you do not have to hire an attorney in order to register as a domestic partner, you may wish to consult with a California family lawyer for additional legal advice regarding the relationship status. Your attorney can determine whether you and your partner are eligible to register for a domestic partnership, tell you what steps you need to follow in order to register properly and explain your rights under domestic partnership laws in California.

Your attorney can also address any questions or concerns you may have about domestic partnerships. If necessary, your attorney can also help you dissolve your domestic partnership should you and your partner decide that you no longer want to be in one.

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