Domestic partner benefit plans are employee benefit plans offered to non-married couples that provide many of the same employment benefits enjoyed by married couples. These benefit plans are increasing in popularity as more couples choose to live together without getting married. However, the laws that govern them are not uniform throughout the country.
Who Qualifies as a Domestic Partner under This Type of Benefit Plan?
Domestic partners are normally two unrelated, unmarried adults that live in the same household and are in a romantic relationship with one another. Some plans limit enrollment to same-sex partners, and some plans may make this a condition to participation in the plan. Other plans may require a waiting period before a partner is eligible to enroll in the plan. The exact criteria for who qualifies for the plan varies by employer, but some common factors include:
- Sharing a "committed relationship"
- Not related more closely than would be allowed for a legal marriage under state law
- At least 18 years of age
- Financial interdependence with the partner
What Are the Benefits of the Plan?
The greatest benefit of the plan is often health and medical insurance. Since health insurance can be expensive, many employers fear that extending benefits to domestic partners will be too costly. However, many times this is untrue because enrollment in the plan is low and there is normally less risk that the plan will have to cover the high costs of pregnancy and child birth with same-sex couples. Other common benefits of the plan frequently include:
- Sick leave
- Relocation expenses
- Access to company property
- Permission to attend company functions
Are There Any Tax Consequences to the Benefit Plan?
Currently, federal income tax laws do not treat domestic partner benefits the same as benefits offered to married couples. Ordinarily, an employee whose partner receives domestic partner benefits must include the cost of those benefits as taxable income. However, there is an exception to this tax requirement for legal dependents. In order to be classified as a legal dependent, a partner must live in the same household as the employee and receive over half of his or her support from the employee.
Should I Consult an Attorney about Domestic Partner Benefit Plans?
Many employers have begun offering benefit plans to domestic partners. As they grow in popularity, the rules will change and your rights will be effected. An employment attorney can help explain the rights and benefits for both you and your partner and ensure you are being treated fairly.