In legal terms, a domestic partnership is a committed relationship between two people who live together, but are not married. They share a residence, finances, and may raise children together as unmarried parents. Originally, domestic partnerships were intended to be utilized by same-sex couples who were legally prohibited from marriage. Now, domestic partnership is available to many different types of couples who wish to have some of the legal benefits of marriage, without actually being married.
Because there are no federally mandated guidelines in terms of what a domestic partnership is, each state is responsible for defining these relationships in their own way. As such, domestic partnership can look very different from state to state, as well as the benefits offered to domestic partners.
Some examples of the general benefits that states offer to domestic partnerships include, but may not be limited to:
- Health, dental, and vision insurance;
- Death benefits, as well as inheritance rights;
- Visitation rights, such as those afforded in jail facilities and hospitals;
- Authority to make medical and financial decisions on behalf of their partner;
- Accident and life insurance;
- Housing rights; and
- Parental leave and adoption rights.
Which States Allow For Domestic Partnership Arrangements?
Most of the United States recognize and allow for domestic partnership arrangements. Couples living in these states can apply to register their relationship with the state in order to receive some of the government benefits as previously mentioned.
The following states recognize domestic partnership relationships in some capacity:
- District of Columbia (D.C.);
- New Jersey;
- Hawaii; and
It is important to note that laws and regulations pertaining to domestic partnership change frequently. Additionally, some states may allow or restrict certain benefits in specific parts of the same state. Because of these varying factors, you may wish to speak to an experienced attorney in your state if you have any questions regarding domestic partnerships.
What Legal Rights Are Available to Domestic Partners In Wisconsin?
As of 2009, domestic partnerships have been available to same-sex couples in the state of Wisconsin. In 2015, when same-sex marriage become legal in the United States, same-sex couples living in the state of Wisconsin were granted the choice between marrying or seeking a domestic partnership. However, a domestic partnership arrangement in Wisconsin is automatically terminated if/when the partners decide to enter into a marriage arrangement.
Many of the previously mentioned legal rights are available to those in a domestic partnership in Wisconsin. Some examples of specific rights include:
- The right to inherit property from a deceased domestic partner through intestacy;
- The right to sue for wrongful death on behalf of their domestic partner;
- Hospital and jail facility visitation rights;
- The right to access family medical leave in order to care for a sick domestic partner;
- Immunity against testifying against each other in court; and
- Entitlement to crime victim compensation.
It is crucial to note that Wisconsin domestic partnerships are not granted all of the legal rights and responsibilities afforded to married couples in Wisconsin. Additionally, the domestic partnership may not be recognized in other states or countries. Domestic partnerships in Wisconsin are not necessarily entitled to certain federal benefits that married couples are allowed. Another important note is that the state of Wisconsin ended its domestic partner registry in April of 2018.
Wisconsin law concerning domestic partnerships does not provide for two-parent adoptions by same-sex couples. In general, Wisconsin provides far fewer rights, duties, and protections to those in a domestic partnership when compared to those in a traditional marriage.
How Are Domestic Partnerships Registered? How Are They Terminated?
To reiterate, all subjects related to domestic partnerships will vary from state to state. Additionally, the fact that the United States legalized same-sex marriages in 2015 may have caused change to state domestic partnership registries, such as in the state of Wisconsin. It is important to familiarize yourself with your specific state’s domestic partnership laws and allowances.
Generally speaking, a couple can formalize their partnership by registering with their employer, local government agency, or the state in which they reside. Both applicants must be over the age of 18, unmarried, and deemed mentally competent in terms of entering into a contract. They may not be part of another domestic partnership relationship, and they must be in the committed relationship for a minimum duration of six months.
Applications are filed with the court, and are signed with witnesses present. Some examples of additional requirements include, but may not be limited to:
- Adequate identification, such as a driver’s license or passport;
- A copy of a current lease, mortgage, or rental agreement which names both applicants as occupants of the residence; and
- Various fees, such as those associated with court filings.
Partners may question whether it is worth it to register their domestic partnership. If the partners are presenting themselves as being in a domestic relationship, but do not formally register the partnership with the court, they may not receive what limited rights and protections as a couple who are formally registered with the court.
Either party, or both parties, may apply for a termination of the domestic partnership by filing with the court. After a six month waiting period, the partnership is formally terminated. However, during this time, there remains a continuation of benefits for both of the partners.
The party responsible for applying for termination can apply to have the termination withdrawn during the six month waiting period, so long as the partnership still meets the requirements of a domestic partnership. Once the six month waiting period has expired, the couple will need to reapply for a new domestic partnership once their previous partnership has been terminated.
Automatic termination may occur for various reasons, including:
- One of the partners die;
- Both partners marry each other;
- One partner marries someone else, outside of the domestic partnership; and/or
- One partner abandons the relationship, or their mutual residence.
What Else Should I Know About Domestic Partnerships?
Some states bestow rights to domestic partnerships while also assigning similar responsibilities to that of a legal marriage. An example of this would be how in California, domestic partners are considered to be financially responsible for the other partner. This is similar to legal responsibilities experienced in a marriage. Some states may also institute a property distribution model similar to the one utilized in a traditional divorce that is to be applied to a domestic partnership termination.
As previously mentioned, domestic partnership rights, benefits, and recognition vary from state to state. These states can be further categorized as “no rights states,” “some rights states,” and “all rights states.” A full categorization of states can be found here. In summation, there are only six states in which full domestic partnership benefits are offered throughout the state:
- Vermont; and
Do I Need an Attorney For Domestic Partnerships in Wisconsin?
If you have any questions regarding domestic partnerships in Wisconsin, you should consult with an experienced Wisconsin family attorney. As mentioned throughout this article, domestic partnerships vary greatly from state to state. Consulting with an attorney will ensure you receive the most accurate and up to date information for your specific state.
Whether you wish to register or terminate a domestic partnership, an attorney can help guide you through the process. An attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed, while protecting your rights.