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Domestic Partnerships

Not every happy couple can get married, and even some who can choose not to. For cohabitating couples who want to make their relationship official outside of the standard marriage context, their options are domestic partnerships or civil unions. A domestic partnership is a legally-recognized relationship that offers non-married couples the same or similar benefits as those provided to married couples, whether they are heterosexual or same-sex couples. Not all states recognize domestic partnerships within a legal context. FindLaw's Domestic Partnerships section has information and resources to help you decide if a domestic partnership is the right next step for your relationship.

This section provides the legal details of domestic partnerships and includes a comparison to same-sex marriage and civil unions. There’s also an overview of domestic partner benefits offered by various states and a listing of states that offer domestic partnership rights. Additionally, you can find an overview of how to end a domestic partnership, along with information on issues like division of property, child custody, and more.

Domestic Partners

The easiest way to understand domestic partnerships is that they offer non-married couples many of the same legal benefits allowed to married couples. These benefits can include health and life insurance, death benefits, sick and family leave, and state tax treatment. Not every state recognizes domestic partnerships, and the states that do often have differences that can affect who is eligible for domestic partnerships and how employers treat domestic partners.

Eligibility and Benefits of Domestic Partnerships

The process for making a domestic partnership official can vary, but generally will involve filing an application at a courthouse or designated government office. States that do permit domestic partnerships are permitted to place some eligibility restrictions on who may apply. For instance, domestic partnerships were in some states designed to replace marriage for same-sex couples and a couple states require that one member of a heterosexual couple be at least 62 years old in order to apply for a domestic partnership.

Just as state laws regarding domestic partnership requirements vary, so too do the benefits those states recognize. While some states, like California, recognize the same benefits and protections for domestic partners as married couples, other states limit their benefits to medical and end-of-life decisions.

Civil Unions

Civil unions are similar to domestic partnerships in that they are an effort to extend the same state benefits, civil rights, and legal protections otherwise available only to married couples. And like domestic partnerships, civil unions tend to be sought after by gay couples in states where traditional marriage is not available. In some cases, a civil union is just a domestic partnership with another name, but there are a few states, like Vermont where civil unions were born, that offer civil unions but not domestic partnerships.

Hiring a Family Law Attorney

Sorting out all of the emotional, legal, and financial issues of a domestic partnership can be challenging. An experienced family law attorney can assist you not only with information regarding domestic partnerships but with the actual legal process as well.