Presently, numerous states recognize domestic partnerships. In short, a domestic partnership is simply a relationship between two unmarried persons who are cohabitating together in a “committed relationship.” In general, persons who seek to register as domestic partners do so because they are seeking similar benefits and privileges that married couples possess. 

Historically, most registered domestic partnerships were same-sex couples. However, since the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which held that denying the fundamental institution of marriage to same-sex couples is a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, there have been fewer registered domestic partnerships. 

Although a registered domestic partnership provides some similar benefits to a marriage, the two are not identical. Thus, although persons registered as domestic partners are entitled to some of the same legal benefits of marriage, they are not entitled to all the same benefits. While the benefits enjoyed by domestic partners vary by state, some common benefits include: 

  • Visitation Rights: Registered domestic partners may visit their partners in hospitals or in prisons;
  • Right to Sue: Registered domestic partners have the right to sue for wrongful death of their partner;
  • Sick Leave: Registered domestic partners may enjoy the right to use employer sick leave to care for their partner; or
  • Insurance: Registered domestic partners may get covered through their partners health insurance, dental insurance, vision insurance, and life insurance. 

It is important to note that depending on your local state’s laws on domestic partnerships, a domestic partnership may confer all of the same benefits as a legal marriage. Additionally, another similarity between domestic partners and married persons, is terminating a domestic partnership involves a filing process similar to divorce. 

This means that domestic partners will have to deal with similar divorce issues, such as child custody, property division, and support payments.

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

As mentioned above, domestic partnerships share similar privileges and benefits to that of a married couple. Thus, upon the dissolution of a domestic partnership, one partner may seek maintenance payments from the other partner. 

Maintenance payments are essentially monetary payments that one partner makes to the other partner as a means of providing financial support after the partnership has been terminated. In the legal 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 or not to award alimony to one party. In contrast, when a domestic partnership ends, maintenance payments may not always be considered. 

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

  • Length of Partnership: One of the most important factors a court will consider is the length of time the domestic partnership lasted. Similar to married couples, if a domestic partnership lasted for many years, then the court may be more inclined to awarding maintenance payments to the partner seeking financial support;
  • Assets: The court will also consider each partner’s assets in determining maintenance payments. If the two partners assets are significantly imbalanced, a court may be more inclined to award maintenance payments to the partner with less assets;
  • Income and Education: Similar to assets, a court will also consider the ability of each partner’s ability to earn a living by analyzing their income and educational level; and 
  • 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 note that a court has complete discretion in awarding maintenance payments. Thus, if a domestic partnership lasted for many years and there is an imbalance in the two partner’s income and assets, then 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, such as by failing to properly register as domestic partners, a court will likely decline to consider maintenance payments. 

May Child Support Be Awarded in a Domestic Partnership Setting?

In short, yes. Regardless of whether or not a couple has a legally recognized domestic partnership, upon separation of the parents child support will be ordered. This is because non-married parents have the same obligation to provide for their children as married or divorced parents. 

Child support orders and payments are made  in the best interest of the child to provide for their support. Thus, if there are children involved in the termination of a domestic partnership, then child support, child custody, and visitation are all issues that will have to be dealt with.

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

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

An experienced family law attorney 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 legal course of action, as well as represent you in a court of law, if necessary.