Steve Fernandez |

Domestic Partnerships

A new California law makes it legal for heterosexual couples to file for domestic partnerships. This gives all couples in the state the right to choose between either a marriage or a domestic partnership option to declare their commitment to each other and to gain state rights that are available to couples.

Prior to the new law, only same-sex couples and heterosexual couples over the age of 62 were legally allowed to enter into a domestic partnership.

Domestic Partnership Basics

A domestic partnership is a union between two people that grants similar benefits and legal protections that are also offered by marriage. Rights granted to couples in a domestic partnership are determined by the state. Some states make domestic partnerships and marriages almost identical while others only grant certain privileges to legal marriages.

Domestic partnerships can also be called civil unions. However, that term can be misleading because some states have different meanings and rules depending on if you are granted a domestic partnership or a civil union.

Domestic partnership laws and regulations are determined by the state. Prior to 2015, many domestic partnerships were mainly for same-sex marriages. This was especially true in states that made same-sex marriage illegal. However, the landmark Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges legalized same-sex marriage across the country. It effectively made it illegal for states to ban same-sex marriages.

Even after the Supreme Court ruling, domestic partnerships remain an option in some states. This is for both same-sex and opposite-sex marriages. A domestic partnership has some advantages over marriage. For example, they are much easier to both enter into and get out of.

There is no need for a lengthy divorce process at the end of a domestic partnership. Instead, couples can just decide to separate without having to go through legal hoops. In general, they only need to fill out a form and send it in that shows they intend to terminate the partnership.

Domestic Partnerships in California

The law allowing domestic partnerships was introduced in California in 2000. At the time, marriage same-sex marriage was illegal. Because of this, the purpose of the law to allow same-sex couples the option to create a long-term partnership in the state.

It was an alternative to marriage but still gave the couples almost identical legal rights to heterosexual couples in marriage.

Rights given to domestic partners include the following:

  • Disability insurance coverage
  • Up to 12 weeks of leave under the California Family Rights Act
  • Use of paid leave and sick time to take care of family members
  • Tax benefits for spouses filing separately or jointly
  • End of life care and family access at hospitals
  • Parental rights and responsibilities regarding the children
  • State healthcare coverage as family members

In the state, there are certain criteria that must be met to register for a domestic partnership in California. Prior to the new law, the domestic partnership option was only available to same-sex couples and heterosexual couples over the age of 62. Some additional criteria include:

  • They live together in the same residence
  • Neither person is married or in a domestic partnership with anyone else
  • Both are over the age of 18 (there are some exceptions to this with parental consent)
  • The two people are not related by blood
  • Both are capable of consenting to the domestic partnership and neither is under duress

The new California Law

While the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, the ruling did not have any effect on state domestic partnership laws. This meant that same-sex couples had the right to both a domestic partnership and a marriage in the state. However, heterosexual couples did not have the same rights and could only get married in California.

The new bill, signed into law by Governor Newsome in July 2019, gave the right to register as a domestic partnership for all couples, regardless of their sexual orientation. Senate Bill 30, effective on January 1, 2020, makes it legal for any couple to create a domestic partnership as long as they qualify under other state laws, regardless of their sexual orientation.

While domestic partnerships are legal in California, they are not recognized by the federal government. Regardless of sexual orientation, some couples should probably not enter into domestic partnerships. Rather, marriage would be a safer route to guarantee rights.

These include couples where one is not a U.S. citizen, military couples and dependents, couples who want to adopt internationally, or partners where one is receiving some sort of federal benefits like social security or Medicaid.