Domestic partnerships are committed relationships between two people who live together but who are not married. There are many states in the United States that recognize this type of relationship. Domestic partners are able to apply and register their relationship in order to receive certain benefits.

Domestic partnerships became available for individuals in Washington, D.C. in 2002. Individuals who can register as domestic partners include:

  • Heterosexual couples;
  • Same-sex couples; and
  • Blood relatives.

The individuals in a domestic partnership share their finances. They can also raise a child or children together as parents that are not married.

Domestic partnerships were first available to only same- sex couples who were prohibited from getting married. However, domestic partnerships now extend to different types of couples.

No federal guidelines exist that define a domestic partnership. In the United States, each state defines a domestic partnership differently.

The domestic partnership laws were intended to permit same-sex couples to enter into a civil contract that would protect their rights as a couple. The couple is not required to have any type of ceremony in order to enter into a domestic partnership contract.

In order to be able to register as domestic partners in Washington, D.C., the individuals must:

  • Be in a committed relationship;
  • Share a residence;
  • Be at least 18 years of age and competent to enter into a legal contract;
  • Each be the sole domestic partner of the other; and
  • Be unmarried and not registered as a domestic partner to any other individual.

In some cases, individuals in a domestic partnership may formalize their relationship by registering with their employer, state in which they reside, or local government. As noted above, both applicants are required to be at least 18 years of age, unmarried, and competent to enter into a contract. They cannot be involved in another domestic partnership and must have been in a committed relationship for at least 6 months.

The domestic partners may begin the process of registration by filing applications with the court and signing them in the presence of witnesses. For the application, both of the individuals will need to provide proper identification along with any necessary fees in order to complete the application process.

Documents which may be helpful when applying for a domestic partnership relationship include:

  • Proper identification, which typically includes a driver’s license or passport;
    • It is important to note that other types of documents may be considered proper identification. The individuals should check their state’s requirements; and
  • A current lease, mortgage, or rental agreement that has the names of both applications as occupants of the residence.

If individuals hold themselves out as being in a domestic relationship, but they do not formally register with a court, they may not be able to receive the same benefits as a couple that is formally registered with a court.

Are there Benefits of a Domestic Partnership?

Yes, there may be benefits of a domestic partnership even though the individuals do not have the same benefits as a married couple. In some states, benefits may include:

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

Some employers may offer these benefits even if the state in which the individuals reside does not recognize the domestic partnership relationship.

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

In Washington, D.C., same-sex marriage became legal in 2009. Individuals began to get married in 2010. Same-sex marriage became legal in the United States in 2015. Currently, in Washington, D.C., all couples have a choice between a marriage and a domestic partnership.

Domestic partners may also get married to one another without terminating their domestic partnership. The marriage will exist in addition to the domestic partnership. However, if the couple gets married and does not wish to continue the domestic partnership, it may be terminated without affecting the marriage.

What Rights Do Domestic Partners Enjoy in Washington, D.C.?

In Washington, D.C., domestic partners enjoy many of the same rights that married couples do. These rights include:

  • Inheritance rights;
  • Equitable division of property if the domestic partnership terminates;
  • Support from a former partner, if appropriate; and
  • The right to enter into a premarital agreement.

It is important to note, however, that individuals in a domestic partnership do not enjoy all of the rights and responsibilities of a married couple. For example, if the individuals enter into a domestic partnership, their federal benefits may be limited and their partnership may not be recognized in every state or other countries.

Which States Do Recognize Domestic Partnership?

Although not every state in the United States recognizes domestic partnerships, there are some that do. Because the laws vary and change frequently, it is important to consult with a local family attorney.

The following states are states 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 areas of the state. Individuals should consult the exact guidelines in their state.

How Do Domestic Partnerships Compare with Marriages?

The benefits for both marriages and domestic partnerships vary by state. All individuals have the right to get married in every state in the United States. However, as previously discussed, not all states recognize domestic partnerships.

A marriage provides the individuals with more protections and benefits as compared to a domestic partnership. By law, domestic partnership relationships are not considered to be families.

How Are Domestic Partnerships Terminated?

In order to terminate domestic partnerships, one or both of the partners may apply for a termination of the domestic partnership relationship. After the termination is filed, the individuals must wait six months before the domestic partnership is terminated. During this waiting period, the benefits for the individuals will still continue.

The individual or individuals who applied for the termination of the domestic partnership may withdraw their application at any time if they wish to do so. However, once the six month waiting period is over, the individuals will be required to apply for a new domestic partnership after the termination of the previous one.

Automatic termination of the domestic partnership may occur in some circumstances. Reasons for automatic termination may include:

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

Do I Need a Family Law Attorney?

It is important to have the assistance of a Washington, D.C. attorney if you are considering entering into a domestic partnership or have already done so. There are certain differences between domestic partnership and marriage in Washington, D.C.

Your attorney can review your situation, explain the similarities and differences between domestic partnership and marriage, and help you determine which may best suit your needs. Your attorney can also assist you with your rights if you have already entered into a domestic partnership and can help dissolve the partnership of marriage, if necessary.