What is a Domestic Partnership?
Many people know that domestic partnerships are similar to marriage and can apply to unmarried couples who are living together. Most registered domestic partners tended to be in same-sex relationships prior to the Supreme Court's 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision, especially if they lived in a state that banned same-sex marriage. But it remains an option in a few states for partners (same- or opposite-sex) who live together and share a common domestic life. However, some states and cities that offer the arrangement require one of the individuals to be at least 62-years-old.
A domestic partnership is not identical to marriage, but it provides some of the same benefits. Some states refer to the institution as a "civil union," but the definitions vary from one city or state to the next. See FindLaw's Domestic Partners, Civil Unions, and Living Together sections for more information.
How to Register as Domestic Partners
Partners who want to register must declare that their relationship constitutes a serious relationship at a courthouse or other designated government office. For instance, District of Columbia residents seeking to register as domestic partners are required to appear in person at the D.C. Department of Health, submit a single application, and pay a fee. Also, they must provide documentation proving that they satisfy the registration requirements (such as being over the age of 18, unmarried, and sharing a permanent residence).
Domestic Partner Benefits
Domestic partners are entitled to some of the legal benefits of marriage, but not all. Some of the common benefits of domestic partnership include:
- Ability to get coverage on a family health insurance policy
- Right to family leave for a sick partner
- Right to bereavement leave
- Visitation rights in hospitals and jails
Domestic partner benefits vary, as you can see from the following examples:
- California: Domestic partners receive the same benefits and protections as married couples, although federal law does not recognize these unions (which means domestic partners may not collect Social Security benefits from deceased partners, for example).
- Maryland: Unmarried couples may enter into a designated beneficiary agreement, allowing limited rights (such as the right to visit each other in the hospital, share a room in a nursing home, and make funeral decisions).
- Ann Arbor, Michigan: This is limited to Ann Arbor City employees, who may extend employment benefits to their partners.
Wal-Mart and other employers have been sued by employees in same-sex marriages (and labor rights organizations) who were denied certain benefits prior to the Obergefell decision. In addition, many employers are discontinuing benefits for registered domestic partners (typically with a grace period) in light of the marriage equality ruling.
See State Laws: Domestic Partnerships for more specific information about the benefits of domestic partnership in your area.