The State of Maryland made a domestic partnership available as an alternative to marriage in 2008. A domestic partnership is a committed type of relationship that involves two individuals who are residing together but are not married.

In the United States, many states recognize domestic partnerships. The individuals in the relationship may have the ability to apply to register their relationship in order to receive certain government benefits.

In domestic partnerships, the individuals share their finances. They are also able to raise children as unmarried parents.

Originally, a domestic partnership was available to same- sex couples who were barred from getting married. Now, however, it extends to other types of couples.

Currently, no federal guidelines exist regarding the definition of a domestic partnership. Every state within the United States defines this type of relationship differently.

The intent behind this law was to allow same-se couples to enter into a civic contract that would protect their rights as a couple. It is not required that the couple participate in a ceremony in order to enter into this type of contract.

In order to enter into a domestic partnership in Maryland, the parties must fulfill certain requirements, including the parties:

  • Being at least 18 years of age;
  • Not being related by blood or marriage to within 4 degrees of consanguinity, in other words, no marriage to first cousins or closer relatives;
  • Both not being married or in a domestic partnership with another individual; and
  • Agreeing to be in a relationship of mutual interdependence where each individual contributes to the maintenance and support of the other individual and the relationship, even if both of the partners are not required to contribute equally to the relationship.

Individuals in a domestic partnership may formalize their relationship by registering it with their employer, local or government, or the state in which they reside. Individuals may begin the registration process by filing applications with the court and signing them in the presence of witnesses. In addition, the individuals will both be required to provide proper identification along with the payment of any necessary fees in order to complete the application process.

There are some documents which may be helpful or required when applying for a domestic partnership relationship. These include:

  • Proper identification, which can include a driver’s license or passport;
    • It is important to note that there are other documents which may be considered proper identification. The individuals should check their state’s requirements;
  • A current lease, mortgage, or rental agreement which names both applications as occupants of the residence; and
  • A joint loan;
  • A joint checking account;
  • A cohabitation contract; and
  • A life insurance where one of the partners is listed as the beneficiary.

If the individuals hold themselves out as being in a domestic partnership but they do not register with the court, they may be prohibited from receiving the same benefits as a couple that did formally register with the court.

What Are the Benefits of Domestic Partnership in Maryland?

Although the individuals in domestic partnerships do not enjoy the same benefits as a married couples, certain states do provide benefits to individuals in domestic partnerships, which may include:

  • Health, dental and vision insurance;
  • Death benefits and inheritance rights;
  • Visitation rights in jails and hospitals;
  • The authority to make financial and medical decisions for their partner;
  • Accident and life insurance;
  • Housing rights; and
  • Parental leave and adoption rights.

In certain cases, an employer may offer these types of benefits to the individuals in the domestic partnership even if that state does not recognize the domestic partnership relationship.

In Maryland, domestic partners have several rights, which include the ability to:

  • Visit one another in the hospital;
  • Share the same room in a nursing home;
  • Make funeral and burial decisions on behalf of their deceased partner; and
  • Make certain property transfers to each other without incurring tax liability.

It is important to note, however, that these rights are limited as compared to those of married couples. In addition, unlike married couples, domestic partnerships may not be recognized in other states or countries.

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

Individuals that are involved in a domestic partnership may get married to one another without terminating their domestic partnership. The domestic partnership continues to exist congruent to the marriage.

However, if the married couple no longer wishes to also be involved in a domestic partnership, they may terminate that domestic partnership without affecting their marriage. In Maryland, same-sex marraige was legalized on November 6, 2012 and the law was enacted later that month. Couples in domestic partnerships in Maryland have the option to remain domestic partners or to get married.

What States Recognize Domestic Partnership?

The laws governing domestic partnerships change frequently. Because of this, it is important to consult with a family attorney on the current status of domestic partnership relationships in the individual’s state.

The following states are states that recognize domestic partnership relationships:

  • California;
  • Connecticut;
  • District of Columbia (D.C.);
  • Nevada;
  • New Jersey;
  • Oregon;
  • Washington;
  • Vermont;
  • Wisconsin;
  • Maine;
  • Hawaii; and
  • Colorado.

It is important to note that some states may only allow certain benefits in specific parts of the state. It is important to consult the exact guidelines in an individual’s state with the help of a family law attorney.

How is a Domestic Partnership Terminated?

To terminate a domestic partnership, either of the parties of both parties may apply for a termination of the domestic partnership relationship. After filing for the termination of the domestic partnership, the individuals must wait the six month waiting period prior to the termination.

If the partner or partners who filed the termination wishes to withdraw that application, they may do so. However, once the six month waiting period has passed, the individuals will be required to reapply for a new domestic partnership following the termination of their previous domestic partnership.

There are circumstances that will cause automatic termination of the domestic partnership. These reasons may include:

  • The death of one of the partners;
  • Both of the partners marry each other;
  • One partner marries another individual;
  • One partner abandons the relationship; or
  • One partner abandons the mutual residence.

How Does a Domestic Partnership Compare with a Marriage?

Domestic partnerships and marriages have both similarities and differences. The comparison may also vary by state, depending on what rights are given to domestic partnerships.

All individuals in the United States have the right to enter into a marriage. As noted above, however, not all states recognize domestic partnership relationships.

A marriage includes more protections and benefits for the spouses as compared to a domestic partnership relationship. By law, domestic partnership relationships are not considered families.

Married couples are able to inherit assets for their spouse automatically upon the death of their spouse, but this does not apply to domestic partners. A married couple is permitted to file their tax returns jointly. In addition, married couples are able to receive benefits such as Social Security and life insurance.

An individual’s choice to be in a domestic partnership versus a marriage may be dependent upon many emotional and relationship factors. If an individual is considering either a domestic partnership relationship or a marriage as an option, it would be very helpful to have an understanding of the rights, benefits, and protections under the law which are available in both types of relationships. A lawyer is best equipped to advise individuals regarding these issues.

Do I Need an Attorney?

It is extremely important to have the assistance of a Maryland family attorney for any issues related to domestic partnership relationships in Maryland. As previously discussed, the laws vary by state and even some by location.

Registering as domestic partners or getting married is a choice that will affect both you and your partner’s future rights and responsibilities. A lawyer can explain the consequences of both and assist you with whichever you determine is right for you.