Not every happy, committed couple chooses to get married. For cohabitating couples who want to make their relationship official outside of the standard marriage context, their options are domestic partnerships or civil unions. A domestic partnership is a legally-recognized relationship that offers non-married couples the same or similar benefits as those provided to married couples. Not all states recognize domestic partnerships within a legal context. FindLaw's Domestic Partnerships section has information and resources to help you decide if a domestic partnership is the right next step for your relationship.
This section provides details of domestic partnerships and includes a comparison to civil unions. There’s also an overview of domestic partner benefits offered by various states and a listing of states that offer domestic partnership rights. Additionally, you can find an overview of how to end a domestic partnership, along with information on issues like division of property, child custody, and more.
The easiest way to understand domestic partnerships is that they offer non-married couples many of the same legal benefits allowed to married couples. These benefits can include health and life insurance, death benefits, sick and family leave, and state tax treatment. Not every state recognizes domestic partnerships as a separate institution, and the states that do often have differences that can affect who is eligible for domestic partnerships and how employers treat domestic partners.
Eligibility and Benefits of Domestic Partnerships
The process for making a domestic partnership official can vary, but generally will involve filing an application at a courthouse or designated government office. States that do permit domestic partnerships are permitted to place some eligibility restrictions on who may apply. For instance, some states require that one member of the couple be at least 62 years old in order to apply for a domestic partnership.
Just as state laws regarding domestic partnership requirements vary, so too do the benefits those states recognize. While some states, like California, recognize the same benefits and protections for domestic partners as married couples, other states limit their benefits to medical and end-of-life decisions.
Civil unions are similar to domestic partnerships in that they are an effort to extend the same state benefits, civil rights, and legal protections otherwise available only to married couples. And like domestic partnerships, civil unions were once sought after by gay couples in states where traditional marriage was not available. Just a few states still recognize civil unions, including Illinois, while others simply converted civil unions to marriages following the legalization of gay marriage by the Supreme Court in 2015.
Hiring a Family Law Attorney
Sorting out all of the emotional, legal, and financial issues of a domestic partnership can be challenging. An experienced family law attorney can assist you not only with information regarding domestic partnerships but with the actual legal process as well.