Domestic Partnerships for Same-Sex Couples in Oregon

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 What are the Domestic Partnership Laws in Oregon?

A domestic partnership refers to a legally recognized relationship between two adult individuals who live together but are not married. They will be able to receive some of the same benefits as a married couple.

Before same-sex marriages became legal in 2015, domestic partnerships were mostly used by people of the same sex, especially if marriage was not allowed by that particular state. However, some states allow for couples of the opposite sex to also choose domestic partnerships or civil unions instead of marriage.

Currently, only six states allow for domestic partnerships and extend benefits to the couple similar to those given in a marriage. These states are Connecticut, Hawaii, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington. However, there are several other municipalities that will recognize domestic partnerships and extend benefits to those couples in a domestic partnership. For example, while as a state Arizona does not extend benefits to those in a domestic partnership two of their cities currently do – Phoenix and Tucson.

Since 2008, Oregon has been a state that allows for domestic partnerships in certain situations. This has not changed after same-sex marriage was legalized federally. A domestic partnership arrangement in Oregon provides similar legal rights and responsibilities that those couples in a marriage receive.

In Oregon, to qualify for a domestic partnership the following elements must be present in order to register the arrangement legally:

  • The couple is of the same sex;
  • Each person is 18 years of age or older;
  • One person needs to be a legal resident of Oregon;
  • Both must be unmarried;
  • Both must not be in a domestic partnership with someone else in any other jurisdiction;
  • Both must be mentally competent to consent and enter into a contract; and
  • The couple must not be first cousins or closer in relation to one another.

If all of these requirements are met, then a couple can register as domestic partners in the state of Oregon. Any domestic partnership or civil union certified in another state will not be recognized. Also keep in mind that couples of the opposite sex do not have domestic partnerships available in Oregon, but may have this option available in another state or municipality. For reference, a civil union is basically the same as a domestic partnership but it may confer even more rights.

What is the Process of Registering for a Domestic Partnership in Oregon?

After establishing all the necessary requirements for a domestic partnership in the state of Oregon, the following steps can be taken to legally register the arrangement:

  • Fill out the official form, which is called State Domestic Partnership Form 45-6;
  • Notarize the completed form;
  • Submit the completed form, copies of ID cards, contact information, $60 fee via mail or in person at authorized locations. Appointments can be made for in-person submission Some official dropboxes are also available, so be sure to check your county’s options;
  • If you want copies of the registration, additional fees will need to be included with your application ($7.75 for one copy and $4.00 for any other copies requested);
  • Wait for processing, review and approval by the state; and
  • Receive official copies reflecting your registered domestic partnership, which will be sent back to your address of record via mail.

It is important to double check the fees and requirements before you register, as these can change at any time. Looking online or contacting your county clerk are good ways to verify the current application and fee information.

What Rights Are Associated with Oregon Domestic Partnerships?

Rights available to domestic partners in Oregon can vary based on whether you are registered with the state or your individual county. A municipality may be more limiting, but generally the available rights and benefits will include the following:

  • The right to automatically inherit property from your domestic partner if they die without a will in place, just as with a married spouse;
  • The right to visit your domestic partner in a hospital and make medical decisions;
  • The right to sue for the wrongful death of your domestic partner;
  • The right to file joint or separate tax returns; and
  • The same testimonial privileges that married couples have, like spousal privilege.

More rights may be available, so be sure to keep up with any changes or specific county limitations, if applicable. Also keep in mind that not all the rights and benefits that married couples enjoy are present in an Oregon domestic partnership. Entering into a domestic partnership may limit federal benefits for the couple and other states, countries, and municipalities may not recognize the arrangement as legally enforceable within their jurisdictions.

For tax purposes, when domestic partners file the tax returns jointly keep in mind that in addition to the benefits there will also be additional tax responsibilities. One example is that each person will be held liable for all of the tax debt, even if it comes from only one partner. This should be considered when determining whether to file tax returns jointly or separately.

How Can a Domestic Partnership in Oregon be Dissolved?

Just as with married couples who wish to divorce, a couple in a domestic partnership may want to end their arrangement. This is referred to as a dissolution of the domestic partnership and is handled in the same manner as a divorce.

The couple will need to decide on a plan for things like property division and child custody. Mediation can help, but court intervention may be necessary to govern disputes surrounding dissolution of the domestic partnership.

How Does the Legalization of Same-Sex Marriage Affect Domestic Partnerships in Oregon?

As noted above, same-sex marriage became legal in 2015 following the United States Supreme Court decision of Obergefell v. Hodges. After this case legalized marriage for same-sex couples, many individuals in a domestic partnership or civil union decided to get married. However, with states and other jurisdictions like Oregon the option for a domestic partnership or civil union still exists as an alternative if a couple still does not want to enter into a marriage. Just remember that the couple needs to choose one or the other.

In Oregon, currently if someone in a domestic partnership decides to get married they do not need to dissolve their domestic partnership. They can move forward with their marriage, as this is now a legal option, or choose to remain in a domestic partnership. In other states or municipalities this may be different so it is necessary to know relevant local laws. It is also important to know that in the future, Oregon and other states may decide to get rid of domestic partnerships of civil unions altogether. This would leave marriage as the only legal option for both opposite and same-sex couples, which is what the majority of states currently offer.

Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer to Help With the Domestic Partnership Process?

Although the application process is fairly simple, if you need assistance with registering for a domestic partnership an Oregon family lawyer can help. A lawyer can also make sure all requirements are met and answer questions you may have about the process. A lawyer can also represent you in court or during negotiations in the event you want to seek dissolution of the Oregon domestic partnership.

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