Domestic Partnership vs. Marriage in California

Since the United States voted to legalize same-sex marriage on a national level in 2015, couples in California have had multiple options for honoring their relationships and obtaining the privileges of a legal union. The most common option is getting married, but another choice is entering into a domestic partnership. Each choice has its own process, rules and regulations. Learn the pros and cons of each to determine which is right for you and your spouse.

What Is a Domestic Partnership?

Domestic partnerships began as a way for same-sex couples to honor their union and legalize their relationship. Before same-sex marriage was legalized in the U.S., domestic partnerships were the only option for two men or two women who wanted to marry. In a domestic partnership, the couple can enjoy many of the same benefits and advantages as married couples without actually being married, provided that the state and municipality where they live recognize domestic partnerships.

Some of the benefits that come with being in a domestic partnership in California are:

  • Custodial and parental rights over children
  • Visitation rights
  • The right to adopt
  • The right to bereavement leave
  • Family or medical leave for a partner in need
  • Inheritance rights
  • The right not to testify against a partner in state court
  • Hospital and jail visitation rights
  • The right to make medical and financial decisions on a partner’s behalf

A couple may choose a domestic partnership over getting married for many reasons. If you wish to avoid the religious undertones of matrimony, for example, a domestic partnership might be a better option for you. Registering a domestic partnership is often easier than a traditional marriage, as well, without the need to obtain a marriage license. 

Another benefit is that domestic partners don’t face the marriage tax penalty, which often puts couples into a higher tax bracket. Personal reasons for domestic partnerships are also common, such as someone wanting to honor a past spouse who died by not getting remarried but establishing their new relationship in another way.

Differences Between Marriage and Domestic Partnership

If you are trying to decide which type of union is right for you, learn the differences between marriage and domestic partnerships in California to better understand both options. If you are qualified to register for a domestic partnership in California and wish to do so, you can by submitting an application to your local Secretary of State or California’s Secretary of State online.

Some of the key differences between marriage vs. domestic partnership are:

  • Domestic partnerships aren’t recognized in many states, while a marriage would be recognized in all 50 states (and in most other countries).
  • Some workplaces do not view domestic partners as spouses or “family” for insurance purposes and other employment benefits.
  • On a federal level, a noncitizen domestic partner cannot be petitioned for citizenship like a married couple.
  • Upon death, a married couple will automatically inherit each other’s assets tax-free. A domestic partnership would need to have wills drawn up and the assets will be subject to taxation.
  • In a domestic partnership, one partner is not entitled to the other partner’s Social Security or government benefits.
  • It is easier to end a domestic partnership than a marriage. The partnership can be nullified without going to court or dealing with divorce litigation if they have been registered as domestic partners for less than five years and have no children.

The need for domestic partnerships in California might have gone down since the legalization of same-sex marriages, but that doesn’t mean they are irrelevant. A domestic partnership may still be the right choice for you and your spouse based on your needs and goals. Learn more about marriage vs. a domestic partnership – and seek legal advice if you are looking to dissolve your domestic partnership – by speaking to a family law attorney in California at Boyd Law.