Are You a Legal Professional?

Domestic Partners

Domestic partnerships offer non-married couples many of the same legal benefits allowed to married couples. Domestic partnerships often offer benefits related to health insurance, life insurance, death benefits, sick and family leave, and state tax treatment, to name a few. Not all states recognize domestic partnerships. States that do often have differences in the details. These differences can affect how employers must treat domestic partners, as well as who is eligible. Learn more by exploring the resources below, including basics on benefits for domestic partners, how to end a domestic partnership, and state specific information.

What Is a Domestic Partnership?

Sometimes called a "civil union," domestic partnership is not the same thing as a marriage, but it provides many of the same benefits. Domestic partnerships were most common among same-sex couples during the period in which same-sex marriage was not available in many states. Changes in the law have made same-sex marriage available in every state, so it seems likely that there will be a decline in the number of domestic partnerships in the coming years.

Benefits of Domestic Partnership

Some important benefits conveyed by a domestic partnership include:

  • Eligibility for family health insurance policies
  • Right to family leave for a sick partner
  • Right to bereavement leave
  • Visitation rights in hospitals and prisons

There may be significant variation by state. California, for example, provides the same benefits and protections to domestic partners as they do to married couples. In Maryland couples can enter into a "designated beneficiary agreement" that provides limited rights such as permitting hospital visitation.

Since the legalization of same-sex marriage, however, many forms of domestic partnership may be eliminated since they are no longer necessary. There may also be an expansion or contraction of the rights recognized under these partnerships.

Ending a Domestic Partnership

Domestic partnerships are dissolved in a process equivalent to divorce. Dissolution proceedings return you and your partner to the status that existed prior to entering into the domestic partnership. State domestic partnership laws vary greatly depending on the state. These laws determine the precise time, method, and manner by which domestic partnerships are ended. Where not determined by the partnership agreement, the court may decide financial, property, and family matters. This includes decisions about maintenance, parenting arrangements, child support, property division, and other aspects of a relationship commonly addressed in divorce proceedings.

Procedurally, domestic partnership termination may terminate automatically when one partner gives the other notice that the partnership is terminated, when one of the partners dies or marries, or when the domestic partners cease to share a common residence. One may file a termination with the appropriate authority (usually the Secretary of State or County Clerk) or by petitioning the court.

Simplified processes may be unavailable, however. If there is dispute about debts, obligations, or assets then court oversight may be necessary and desirable. Children born or adopted into a relationship may also prevent expedited termination since, in many jurisdictions; the court will wish to ensure that the best interests of the child are served.

Learn About Domestic Partners