Domestic partnerships were first established during the early 1980s among gay and lesbian couples seeking recognition of their relationships and the ability to take advantage of the same benefits conferred to heterosexual couples by marriage. California was one of the original states that offered domestic partnerships to residents by enacting the California Domestic Partner Rights and Responsibilities Act in 2003. This act expanded upon the previously limited scope of domestic partnership legislation to include all the rights and responsibilities afforded to married couples under state law. Since the state legalized same-sex marriage in 2013, same-sex couples have had the option to choose between marriage and domestic partnership.
Over the past several years, many advocates have argued that the freedom to choose their relationship status should be enjoyed by all couples regardless of sexual orientation or age. In 2020, the enactment of Senate Bill 30 removed the prior requirements that the couple must be of the opposite sex or over 62 years of age if the same sex to register for a domestic partnership. This type of relationship remains a popular choice today for both same-sex and opposite-sex couples in California who want to create their own definition of family beyond the confines of traditional marriage.
Consult the following information to learn more about domestic partnerships in California, then contact the Law Offices of Stephanie J. Squires. Our firm offers expert legal assistance to help you register as a domestic partner and navigate child custody, taxes, estate planning, and other issues related to domestic partnerships.
Advantages of a Domestic Partnership
According to the California Family Code, domestic partners are defined as two adults choosing to share their lives in an intimate, committed, and caring relationship. After registering their domestic partnership, they have the same rights, responsibilities, benefits, protections, obligations, and duties as a married couple. This includes:
- The ability to take the last name of their partner or create a hyphenated name combining their last names.
- The protection from discrimination by state agencies.
- The right to own community property, or any assets and property jointly acquired and owned during the partnership.
- Health, vision, and dental insurance benefits.
- Accident and life insurance coverage.
- Disability insurance coverage and workers’ compensation benefits.
- Paid family leave and sick time to care for a domestic partner or children.
- Bereavement leaves after the death of a family member.
- The legal authority to make medical or financial decisions on behalf of their partner.
- Visitation rights for health care facilities and jails or prisons.
- All the legal rights and responsibilities of raising a child born during the partnership.
- The ability to adopt a child their partner shares with another parent from a previous relationship.
- Parental leave to bond with a newborn or newly adopted child or foster child.
- Housing rights, including rent control protection and access to housing designated for families, students, or senior citizens.
- Death benefits and inheritance rights for the surviving partner if the other partner dies.
- The right to receive a portion of their estate if they die without a valid will.
Along with domestic partnerships registered within the state, California also recognizes domestic partnerships from other states and does not require new residents to re-register in California.
Disadvantages of a Domestic Partnership
Unfortunately, the federal government does not recognize domestic partnerships and therefore does not afford registered domestic partnerships the same legal benefits as married couples. In a domestic partnership, couples:
- Must file individual federal tax returns.
- May not be eligible to receive federal employment benefits.
- Cannot jointly adopt a child from another country.
- Cannot sponsor a non-citizen partner applying for US citizenship.
In addition, many couples may experience difficulty having their rights protected when moving to other states that do not recognize domestic partnerships. Because registration is typically a matter of public record, government agencies and public and private entities can access these records, which can prove problematic if you relocate to a state that is unfriendly or openly hostile toward same-sex couples.
Protecting Your Parental Rights in a Domestic Partnership
California law regards any children born to domestic partners as the legal child of both parents. Lesbians who utilize artificial insemination can both be named on the child’s birth certificate, but gay men who involve a surrogate must obtain a parentage decree before being named on the birth certificate. Despite this automatic protection, the only way to truly ensure your rights and the rights of your family wherever you reside is to obtain a parentage or adoption decree for each of your children. These documents are court judgments that identify you and your spouse as the legal parents of your child, ensuring your parental rights are respected by both the federal government and other states.
Requirements for Registering a Domestic Partnership
To become officially registered as domestic partners, a couple must meet the criteria outlined below:
- Both individuals have a common residence.
- They agree to share responsibility for basic living expenses.
- Neither individual can be legally married or in a registered domestic partnership with another person.
- The couple cannot be related by blood in a way that would prohibit them from marrying in California, such as parents and children, other ancestors and descendants of any degree, brothers and sisters, half-siblings, uncles and aunts, and nieces or nephews. However, unlike other states, California does allow first cousins to marry, meaning they are also eligible for a domestic partnership.
- Both individuals must be 18 years of age or older. In some cases, individuals under 18 years of age can obtain written parental or guardian consent and a court order granting permission to register the partnership.
California law excludes individuals who have been declared incapable of consenting to such a partnership from registering. Both individuals must be of sound mind and capable of understanding the nature and responsibilities inherent in a domestic partnership.
How to Register as Domestic Partnerships
If you meet the requirements, you and your spouse can register as domestic partners by completing and signing a notarized Declaration of Domestic Partnership Form and mailing it or delivering it to the California secretary of state, along with the required fee. This fee equals $33 for individuals under 62 years of age and $10 for couples where one or both partners are 62 years of age or older.
How to Terminate a Domestic Partnership in California
In most cases, a couple who wishes to terminate their domestic partnership must complete the same process used by married couples to legally dissolve their marriage. This involves filing for termination by submitting the necessary documentation and appearing in court proceedings during which a judge will issue the final order granting or denying the termination. The court will also separate the assets and property between the individuals, make custody determinations, and decide whether to issue court orders for child support or alimony.
However, some domestic partners can terminate their partnership through summary dissolution that does not require court approval. To qualify for summary dissolution, you must meet these requirements:
- Both parties desire to terminate the partnership.
- Your partnership has been registered for less than five years.
- Neither party is currently pregnant, and there are no born or adopted children involved in the partnership.
- They do not own community or separate property valued at over $43,000, excluding motor vehicles.
- They do not own real estate, land, or buildings.
- Neither party has accrued more than $6,000 in debt since the relationship began, excluding car loans.
- Both parties agree they will not seek financial support from the other party.
- They must create and sign an agreement confirming the above requirements are met and explaining how they will divide property and assets after the partnership is terminated.
If you are eligible for summary dissolution, you file a Notice of Termination of Domestic Partnership with the California secretary of state, and your partnership will automatically dissolve six months after the filing date. If you and your spouse change your mind during that time, you must file a Revocation of Termination of Domestic Partnership. If only one party wants to terminate the partnership, they will be required to file for divorce instead.
Talk to an Upland, CA Domestic Partner Attorney Today
If you have questions about domestic partnerships, contact the Law Offices of Stephanie J. Squires to discuss your situation. As a family law attorney and firm founder, Ms. Squires has over two decades of professional experience providing expert legal representation to clients throughout the Upland area. She offers extensive legal knowledge and strong litigation skills, treats every client with an unparalleled level of personalized attention, and is dedicated to finding the best resolution for your family. Whether you and your significant other would like to register as domestic partners or you decided to pursue the dissolution of an existing domestic partnership, our firm can guide you through every stage of the process.
Contact the Law Offices of Stephanie J. Squires today to schedule a consultation about your domestic partnership. Ms. Squires handles every case personally with a strategic, compassionate, and hands-on approach to the most favorable solution. We can protect your rights, provide top-quality legal counsel, and deliver the optimal outcome for your family.