Domestic Partnerships and Maintenance Payments

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 What are Domestic Partnerships?

Presently, numerous states recognize domestic partnerships. A domestic partnership is a relationship between two unmarried people who live together in a “committed relationship.” In some states, a domestic partnership may be registered in order to obtain official recognition. In general, people who register as domestic partners do so because they seek benefits and rights similar to those that married couples enjoy.

Historically, most registered domestic partnerships were same-sex couples. However, since 2015 and the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which held that denying marriage to same-sex couples violates the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, there have been fewer registered domestic partnerships. Same-sex couples can now get married.

A registered domestic partnership provides some benefits similar to those conferred by marriage, but the two are not identical. So, people registered as domestic partners are entitled to some of the same benefits of marriage, however they are not entitled to all the same benefits.

While the benefits enjoyed by domestic partners vary from state to state, some common benefits include:

  • Visitation Rights: A person in a registered domestic partnership may visit their partner in a hospital or prison;
  • Right to Sue: A person in a registered domestic partnership has the right to to sue for the wrongful death of their partner;
  • Sick Leave: A person in a registered domestic partnership may be able to use employer sick leave to care for their partner, depending on the law of their state of residence and their employer;
  • Insurance: A person in a registered domestic partnership may be able to obtain coverage through their partner’s health insurance, dental insurance, vision insurance, and life insurance; this is more likely if the person’s partner is a public employee.

In some states, a domestic partnership may confer nearly all of the same benefits as marriage. Another similarity in some states would be that, as with a married couple, domestic partners must go through the process of divorce, or something similar to it, to terminate a domestic partnership. This means that domestic partners may have to deal with the same issues involved in divorce, such as child custody, property division, and support payments.

In other states ending a domestic partnership might be quite simple, especially if the domestic partnership did not last long, the partners have no children and their assets are below a certain level. The specific procedure varies greatly from state and state. And even within a state, the process may vary for different partnerships with different characteristics.

Anyone thinking of ending a domestic partnership might want to consult an experienced family law attorney who can explain what is required by the law in the state in which the person lives. Another factor to consider is whether the couple completed a written domestic partnership agreement. If they did, the agreement may contain provisions that guide the termination of the partnership.

Can a Domestic Partner Seek Maintenance Payments When the Domestic Partnership Ends?

As mentioned above, domestic partners enjoy some of the privileges and benefits enjoyed by a married couple. Thus, upon the dissolution of a domestic partnership, one partner may seek maintenance payments from the other partner.

For example, in California, one member of a domestic partnership can ask for a partner support order once they file their case for dissolution of the partnership. One member of a domestic partnership can get a temporary order for partner support while they wait for the final judgment in their case. Of course, temporary spousal support is also an option in a divorce. To get a temporary partner support order, a partner must request an order from the court.

Maintenance payments, like alimony or spousal support, are monetary payments that one partner makes to the other to provide financial support after the partnership has ended. In the marriage and divorce context, these payments are often referred to as spousal support or alimony. When a married couple divorces, a court will almost always consider the balance of assets between the two spouses and decide whether to award alimony to one party. However, when a domestic partnership ends, maintenance payments may not always be considered.

Once again, the state in which a person lives may or may not allow for maintenance payments upon the termination of a domestic partnership. If the state in which a person lives allows for maintenance payments, then a court will generally consider the following factors when deciding whether to award payments to one party:

  • Length of Partnership: One of the most important factors a court considers is the length of the domestic partnership. If a domestic partnership has lasted for many years, then a court may well be more likely to award maintenance payments to the partner seeking financial support;
  • Assets: The court will also consider each partner’s assets in determining whether to award maintenance payments to one of the partners. If the two partners assets are unequal, a court may be more likely to award maintenance payments to the partner with fewer assets;
  • Income and Education: A court will also consider each partner’s ability to earn a living by analyzing their income and educational level;
  • Other Factors: Finally a court will look at other factors, such as the age and health of the party requesting maintenance support.

It is important to understand that a court has complete discretion in awarding maintenance payments. This means that it is up to the court and there is no hard and fast rule that directs a court towards any particular decision. Thus, if a domestic partnership has lasted for many years and there is an imbalance in the two partner’s income and assets, a court may or may not award maintenance payments to the party requesting the support.

Additionally, if the couple does not have a legally recognized domestic partnership, because, for example, the couple failed to properly register as a domestic partnership, a court will likely decline to consider maintenance payments.

May Child Support Be Awarded in a Domestic Partnership Setting?

Whether a court orders one partner to pay child support to the other does not depend on whether the couple has a legally recognized domestic partnership at all. Upon separation of the parents, child support will be ordered based on all of the factors that apply in a divorce. The reason for this is that non-married parents have the same obligation to support their children as parents who have been married or in a domestic partnership.

Child support orders are made in the interest of a child to provide for the child’s support. Thus, if there are children involved in the termination of a domestic partnership, child support, child custody, and visitation are all issues that have to be dealt with in any termination proceeding.

Should I Hire an Attorney If I Have Questions About Ending My Domestic Partnership?

As can be seen, there are a number of legal issues that may be involved in the dissolution of a domestic partnership. Further, each state has different laws regarding the rights of domestic partners, and whether or not maintenance payments may be awarded when a domestic partnership comes to an end. Therefore, it is in your best interests to consult with a well qualified and knowledgeable family law attorney in your area.

An experienced family lawyer will be able to advise you on your state’s laws on domestic partnerships. Additionally, should you face any issues regarding your domestic partnership, they will be able to advise you on your best course of action, as well as represent you in a court of law, if necessary. You are most likely to get the best possible outcome in ending your domestic partnership if you have an experienced family law attorney representing your interests.

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