Domestic partnership is a committed relationship between two people who live together but are not married. Most states recognize this relationship, and the couple can apply to register their relationship and receive some government benefits. 

Domestic partnership couples share residence,finances and can even raise children together as unmarried parents. Domestic parternship was originally available to same- sex couples who were barred from getting married, but now it extends to all types of couples. 

There are no federally-mandated guidelines of what a domestic partnership is. However, each state defines these relationships differently. 

How do You Register as Domestic Partners?

Couples can formalize their domestic partnership through registering with their employer, local government or state they reside in. Both applicants must be at least 18 years of age, unmarried, and competent to enter into a contract. They must also not be in another domestic partnership relationship and be in the committed relationship for a duration of at least six months. 

You begin with filing applications with the court and signing them with witnesses present. Additionally, you need to provide proper identification with the necessary fees to complete the process. 

This is a list of documents that will be useful in applying for a domestic partnership relationship:

  • Proper identification i.e. Driver’s License or Passport (other documents can also be considered proper identification- check your state’s requirements); and 
  • A current lease, mortgage, or rental agreement naming both applicants as occupants of the residence.

If you and your partner hold yourselves out as being in a domestic relationship, but do not formally register with the court, you may not be able to receive the same benefits as a couple who is formally registered with the court. 

Which States Recognize Domestic Partnership?

Domestic partnership regulations and laws change frequently. Therefore, it is important to check with a family attorney on the current status of this type of relationship in your state. 

The following states recognize domestic partnership relationship: 

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

Some states may allow certain benefits in only specific parts of the state. Therefore, it is useful to look at the exact guidelines in your state. 

What are the Benefits of a Domestic Partnership?

Although, the couple cannot enjoy the same benefits as married couples. States do allow for some benefits which can include:

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

Some employers will still offer these benefits even if the state does not recognize the domestic partnership relationship. 

How is a Domestic Partnership Terminated?

Either party or both parties can apply for a termination of the domestic partnership relationship. After filing, there is a six-month waiting period before the domestic partnership terminates. During this time, there is still a continuation of benefits for both the partners. 

The partner that applied for the termination can apply to withdraw it, if it still meets the requirements of the domestic partnership. However, once the six-month period expires, the couple will need to reapply for a new domestic partnership after the termination of the previous one. 

Automatic termination of the domestic partnership can occur for any of the following reasons:

  • Death of one of the partners; 
  • Both partners marry each other;
  • One partner marries someone else or;
  • One partner abandons the relationship or the mutual residence. 

How Does a Domestic Partnership Compare with a Marriage?

Benefits vary between a domestic partnership and a marriage by state. The right to enter into a marriage is entitled to all individuals in every state. However, not all states recognize a domestic partnership relationship. 

Marriages entail more protections and benefits than compared to a domestic partnership. Domestic relations are not considered “family” by law. Married couples can inherit assets automatically upon death but it is not the same for domestic partners. A married couple can file together for a joint tax return. Additionally, married couples have the benefits of social security and life insurance.

Choosing to be a in a domestic partnership or marriage can depend on various emotional and relationships factors. Therefore, when considering the option of both, it will be useful to understand the rights and benefits that come from both kinds of relationships. 

Do I Need to Consult a Family Lawyer for Help with Domestic Partnership Issues?

If you are planning to or are currently in a domestic partnership relationship and want to receive government benefits, you can apply to register your relationship. However, it depends on the state you reside in and what your situation is. 

It can be a complicated process to formalize the domestic partnership relationship. Therefore, obtaining assistance from a family lawyer can make the procedure more efficient.