A domestic partnership is the legal term for a relationship between two individuals who live together and share common domestic responsibilities, such as maintaining their living space and taking care of family members who reside in their home. Domestic partnerships were originally created as a way to recognize same-sex marriage, however, many states have since abolished the legal status once same-sex marriage was legalized in 2015.

Despite its dwindling usage, a handful of states do still recognize domestic partnerships regardless of the partners’ sexual orientation. Individuals who are involved in a domestic partnership enjoy many of the same rights as married couples, but domestic partnership laws and rights can vary widely among the states that recognize this nonmarital status.

Some general rights and benefits that domestic partners can receive include housing rights, death benefits, parental leave, and spousal benefits (e.g., health, vision, and dental insurance). The one area of law that remains consistent among the states that authorize domestic partnerships is that the federal government will not grant domestic partners the same tax benefits as they do to couples who are married.

Additionally, certain states require that the partners register as a domestic partnership to verify their legal status, which in turn, will make them eligible to receive benefits under domestic partnership law. Unlike a marriage, this process does not require an official ceremony to formalize the relationship, but it will require the parties to sign a declaration and to file the document with the Secretary of State.

Who Can Register for a Domestic Partnership in California?

As of 2020, both heterosexual and same-sex couples may register for a domestic partnership in California, so long as they meet the requirements. In order to register for a domestic partnership, the partners must satisfy the following requirements:

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

Once the couple determines they have met all of the above requirements, they can then register for a domestic partnership by filing a Declaration of Domestic Partnership with the California Secretary of State and paying the mandatory filing fees.

How Do I Register a Domestic Partnership With the State of California?

As briefly mentioned above, once the couple meets all of the necessary requirements, they may register for a domestic partnership by completing a Declaration of Domestic Partnership form and filing it with the California Secretary of State. It should be noted that both parties must file and sign these forms.

Additionally, it is not necessary to complete a separate affidavit of domestic partnership in California. Rather, the form itself will serve this purpose and thus both partners’ signatures must be notarized.

Finally, the partners will also need to pay mandatory filing fees. There are different amounts depending on the partners’ ages as well as special handling and certification fees.

What is the Difference Between Marriage and Domestic Partnerships?

There are three key differences between a marriage and a domestic partnership. These include:

  • Married couples have more rights and benefits than domestic partners, and they can file federal joint tax returns.
  • Marriage is legally recognized in every U.S. state, whereas 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 enjoyed by married couples.

Entering into a domestic partnership is not all bad though and even has some of its own advantages. Some benefits of domestic partnerships include:

  • They allow people the freedom of choosing to be together while still retaining some benefits without having to get married;
  • Since domestic partners cannot file their taxes jointly, they avoid the marriage tax penalty;
  • Some domestic partners do not have to get a divorce to terminate the partnership if they meet the prerequisites; and
  • If the couple wants to avoid multiple marriages or the religious connections to marriage, they can file for a domestic partnership without the requirement of holding a ceremony in order to formalize the relationship.

Do You Need to Be a California Resident to Register?

The partners do not need to be California residents in order to register for a domestic partnership in California. However, even if the parties meet all the prerequisites and file in accordance with the law, if the state where they live does not recognize the legal status, then they will not be allowed to receive any benefits or rights that are generally associated with domestic partnerships.

How Do You Terminate a Registered Domestic Partnership?

The process to terminate a registered domestic partnership is the same as the one used to dissolve a marriage. In other words, the partners must file for termination in court by completing the necessary forms and attend court proceedings where a judge will issue a final order most likely granting the termination.

However, this is not the only option that partners to a domestic partnership have when terminating their partnership. If they meet the specific requirements, they can also choose to terminate the relationship through a process known as, “summary dissolution”.

In order to determine whether the partners qualify for summary dissolution, they must meet the following requirements:

  • The domestic partnership must not have been registered for more than 5 years on the date they file for termination;
  • Both parties must want to terminate the relationship;
  • There are no children involved, including born or adopted, and none of the parties is currently pregnant;
  • They do not have any community or separate property that is worth more than $43,000 (motor vehicles do not apply);
  • They do not own any portions of land or buildings;
  • Neither partner is in debt for more than $6,000 since entering the relationship (excluding car loans);
  • The partners agree that they will not request financial support from the other;
  • They must sign an agreement confirming all of the above and list how they intend to divide their property, assets, etc.; and
  • Various other requirements that can be found on the website for the California Courts.

If the partners satisfy all the requirements for summary dissolution, then they may file a Notice of Termination of Domestic Partnership with the California Secretary of State. Once this form is filed, the domestic partnership will automatically end 6 months after the day the Notice was filed.

If the partners change their minds within that 6-month time period, they must fill out and file a Revocation of Termination of Domestic Partnership form with the California Secretary of State. However, if only one of the partners wants to revoke the termination and the other partner still wants to terminate the relationship, then they will no longer be eligible for summary dissolution and will be required to get a divorce instead.

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

Although you do not need to hire an attorney to register as a domestic partnership, you may want to consult a California family lawyer for further legal advice. Your lawyer will be able to determine whether you and your partner are eligible to register for a domestic partnership, can tell you what steps you need to follow in order to register properly, and can explain your rights and benefits under California’s domestic partnership laws.

In addition, your lawyer can answer any questions or concerns you may have about domestic partnerships, and can also help you dissolve the partnership should you and your partner decide that you no longer want to be in one.