Domestic Partnership

In California, there is a legal entity referred to as a domestic partnership. While not a marriage, the union is recognized by the state as conferring the same rights as a marriage. The legal definition of a domestic partnership is two adults choosing to share their lives in a committed and intimate relationship with mutual caring.

To be recognized by the State of California as a domestic partnership, the union must be registered by both partners by filing a Declaration of Domestic Partnership with the Secretary of State. Partners filing must be the same sex, or one or both of them must be 62-years-old or older. Opposite sex couples may register if one or both of the partners meet the eligibility criteria under Title II of the Social Security Act. This last change to the law, including some opposite sex couples, went into effect January 1, 2012.

Domestic partners must share a common residence, not necessarily owned, and cannot be blood relatives or be in a domestic partnership agreement or married to anyone else. In order to enter into a partnership, both individuals must be 18-years-old or older and be mentally competent to consent to the agreement.

Those with a Registered Domestic Partner Partnership in California must file state income taxes with a married status, as their living arrangement now makes them a legally recognized, yet unmarried, couple. As such, they are accorded all the rights and privileges married couples receive under the law. When filing, they may choose to file jointly or file as married, and filing separately. If you were in a same-sex union in another state and moved to California, and your agreement is equivalent to a Registered Domestic Partner Partnership, you must file as a married couple.

Registering a domestic partner agreement is not complicated and costs less than a marriage. After both individuals sign a declaration that includes their names and address, they have the document notarized and sent to the Secretary of State, complete with a filing fee. An additional surcharge is collected to fund domestic violence training and services.

To dissolve a domestic partner agreement, the parties go through a process similar to dissolving a marriage. There are some circumstances in which filing documentation with the Secretary of State would conclude the agreement. One instance is if the agreement had not been in force for more than five years. In addition, the dissolution must be uncontested, involve no children, have very little in the way of joint debt or property and no real property.

Once those requirements are met, both partners will review material from the Secretary of State, at which point they must agree to divide assets and liability. If all the requirements are met for dissolution, the union is terminated six months later, unless one of the partners withdraws their consent.

This is an area of the law that is sometimes fraught with misunderstandings, and it is best to discuss such partnership agreements with an experienced domestic partnership attorney who can advise you of your rights and who understands what is involved in drafting a legal contract outlining your relationship. If the contract is not drafted properly, the union will not be recognized as being legal – and you will not be accorded married status. Should the union break down, and partnership agreement was not drawn up correctly, there could be other problems for both partners.

Contact California Divorce Mediators by email or phone, to discuss mediation, legal separation, domestic partnerships or dissolution. This approach may be a viable and reasonably priced alternative to expensive divorce litigation.