Over the years, the struggle for gay and lesbian rights has resulted in three ways in which a same-sex couple can gain legal recognition for their relationship: through a civil union, a domestic partnership or a same-sex marriage.

While not all same-sex couples in every state can choose from all these options, California provides same-sex couples with two legally recognized unions they can declare. Same-sex couples in California can now formalize their union by either getting married or entering into a registered domestic partnership.

The differences between these two legal unions will vary from state to state. However in California, domestic partnerships provide same-sex couples with most of the rights and protections that married couples enjoy during the marriage and after, in the case of separation or divorce. Keep in mind, domestic partnerships are not recognized in every state. Because they are state-issued, they do not afford same-sex couples all of the federal rights married couples enjoy. In order for California same-sex couples to access to all the federal rights of marriage, and have their legal union recognized in all states, same-sex couples must also get married in California, even if they are already in a domestic partnership with each other.

Every couple will have unique needs that may be better served in a same-sex marriage than in a domestic partnership, or visa versa. The rights and duties of a same-sex domestic partnership may vary from a same-sex marriage from state to state, however California affords both same-sex domestic partners and same-sex spouses the same rights and duties in the case of dissolution.

Domestic partners and spouses both have a right to spousal or partner support, child support for any minor children and an equal division of debts and assets. However, if you are in a domestic partnership and are seeking dissolution of that union, you may not have a right to some assets that are under federal control, such as governmental pensions and some retirement accounts. Similarly, certain federal benefits may be affected by getting married, but not by entering into a domestic partnership. At the same time, being married may earn you a tax break or improve your credit. Speak with an experienced family law attorney to discuss the divorce implications of same-sex marriage or domestic partnerships.

Are you in the Los Angeles area and have questions about same-sex unions? Certified Family Law Specialist Mark H. Karney has experience representing same-sex couples in Los Angeles County. Serving the Los Angeles and Beverley Hills area, Mark H. Karney offers respectful and compassionate legal counsel for same-sex couples. Call our office at 310-564-5710 or contact us through our online form today to schedule a free consultation.