While domestic partnerships offer similar benefits to marriage, they have a few drawbacks.
Domestic partnerships include legal benefits such as hospital visitation rights and access to insurance plans but may also include roadblocks to family planning and protection of assets.
Here’s what to keep in mind when considering a domestic partnership vs marriage.
What is a Domestic Partnership?
A domestic partnership involves two people in a romantic relationship who share their lives and home but aren’t legally married.
Before the nationwide legalization of gay marriage, same-sex couples had to get creative to be granted the same legal benefits as heterosexual married couples. Domestic partnerships and civil unions were the only way to ensure that same-sex couples could have benefits such as hospital visitation rights, family medical leave, and the ability to add their partner to their healthcare plan.
By 1999, both domestic partnerships and civil unions became recognized as viable legal designations for same-sex couples.
Domestic partnerships and civil unions operate similarly and only differ in that certain states recognize one over the other. For example, California, D.C., Maine, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin recognize domestic partnerships, while Colorado, Illinois, Vermont, New Jersey, and Hawaii recognize civil unions.
Now that same-sex marriage is legal across the United States, domestic partnerships are less common, but they still exist and can provide important legal benefits to couples that don’t necessarily want to be married in the eyes of the law.
What Are the Benefits of a Domestic Partnership?
Domestic partnership benefits vary from state to state and even across jurisdictions. In general, a domestic partnership grants you the following legal benefits:
- Access to your partner’s health insurance plan
- Housing rights
- Hospital and jail visitation rights
- Parental and adoption leave
- Access to your partner’s life insurance coverage
- Alimony and division of community assets if the relationship ends
Be sure to research the specifics of the jurisdiction where you plan to establish your domestic partnership for the most accurate information on benefits.
And remember that just as domestic partnerships grant you many of the benefits of marriage, they also come with the same legal responsibilities. For example, since California is a community property state, anything earned or acquired during your domestic partnership may be split 50/50 if the relationship dissolves.
What are the Cons of a Domestic Partnership?
Because domestic partnerships are only recognized at the state level, certain federal benefits, like tax benefits, are omitted from this style of union.
The potential roadblocks you face vary from state to state. In general, these are some of the key differences that can impact your decision to choose a domestic partnership:
- Domestic partners cannot receive social security benefits from their significant other in the event of death.
- Domestic partners are unable to file taxes jointly.
- Domestic partners may not be able to adopt children.
- One partner may be unable to petition their non-citizen partner to stay in the United States.
- Complications with the division of assets in the event of divorce or death.
Whether or not a domestic partnership suits you and your significant other depends on how these elements weigh into your relationship.
How Do You Get a Domestic Partnership?
To be legally recognized as domestic partners, most states require that you register at a designated government office.
Similar to obtaining a marriage license, you may be required to submit an application, pay a fee, and submit documentation proving that you meet the requirements. These may include showing proof of a joint bank account or property ownership documents.
Why Choose a Domestic Partnership Over Marriage?
Opting for a domestic partnership is simply a matter of preference. Perhaps you’ve been previously divorced and don’t wish to go through the motions of a wedding again. Or maybe marriage just isn’t your style, but you still wish to be granted similar legal benefits with your long-term partner.
Whatever the reason, a domestic partnership offers a solid alternative to marriage for those who prefer to go the less traditional route.
Can You Get a Prenup in a Domestic Partnership?
Unfortunately, prenuptial agreements are only effective for those legally married, meaning you cannot get a prenup with a domestic partnership.
Certain states, including California, allow for cohabitation agreements, which help you to define your separate and community property.
If you opt for a domestic partnership, consider putting alternative legal protections in place, such as establishing an estate plan.
Domestic Partnerships: The Bottom Line
While anyone can get a domestic partnership, the original concept was especially beneficial to same-sex couples before the nationwide legalization of gay marriage.
Now that same-sex marriage is federally recognized, many states no longer offer domestic partnerships as an option. But for those that do, they’re a great alternative for couples that do not wish to be legally married but want to receive similar benefits with their partner.
When considering a domestic partnership versus marriage, have an open conversation with your partner about your goals for your relationship and how your decision will impact your financial and family plans.
Questions about prenups or family law? Book a consultation with me today for more information.