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Pennsylvania Domestic Partnership Laws

Domestic partnerships are legally recognized unions of two individuals in a relationship who live together but are not married. Domestic partnerships grant some of the same rights to partners that are available to married couples, such as time off to care for a partner under the Family Medical Leave Act and hospital visitation rights. Prior to the legalization of same-sex marriages, domestic partnerships were often an attractive option for same-sex couples to enjoy legal benefits from their committed relationship despite the inability to marry. But some couples, regardless of their sexual orientation, still use these unions today for financial, legal, or personal reasons.

Pennsylvania has not recognized domestic partnerships at a statewide level. However, the City of Philadelphia has carved out an exemption for persons in a same-sex domestic partnership with "exempt employees" of the City Government. Domestic partners qualifying under this exception are entitled to the same benefits as spouses for health and leave purposes. Additionally, domestic partner health benefits may not be personal income for tax purposes in some cases.

Domestic Partnerships in General

Not all states offer this arrangement and qualifications for domestic partnerships vary, although some cities and counties may offer this option even if their state doesn't provide it (as is the case with Pennsylvania and Philadelphia). Couples seeking to create a domestic partnership must meet qualifications like those for marriages. They must also complete forms and register at a courthouse or other designated office in the same way as individuals seeking a marriage license.

Cohabitation Agreements: Another Option

In states that do not recognize domestic partnerships, cohabitation agreements may provide a similar alternative to a traditional marriage relationship. Cohabitation agreements are legal documents in which unmarried cohabitants can grant certain rights to each other like those granted to married people. These agreements also serve the purposes of:

  • Protecting assets and income of the individual cohabitants;
  • Defining how property acquired in the relationship is treated; and
  • Clearly setting out rights and obligations of each individual in the relationship.

Cohabitation agreements are recognized as valid in most states, though generally these agreements must be in writing. Cohabitation agreements may also be supplemented by wills and durable powers of attorney for healthcare and finances to ensure the wishes and directives of each cohabitant are honored in the event of incapacitation or death.

Pennsylvania Domestic Partnership Laws at a Glance

There's value to reading the literal language of a law, but it's helpful to also see the law in plain English. The chart below provides you with a helpful explanation of the exception to Pennsylvania's lack of statewide domestic partnership protections.


City of Philadelphia, Mayor's Executive Order NO. 2-96 (Domestic Partnerships)

Benefits For Domestic Partners

In the City of Philadelphia, domestic partners of "exempt employees" are entitled to the same health and leave benefits as spouses of those same employees.

"Exempt" employees are defined as employees of an agency in the Executive or Administrative branch of City government that are exempt from civil service.

Qualifying "Domestic Partnership" Standard

To qualify as a "domestic partnership" and receive these benefits, two individuals of the same gender must be in a committed relationship. The individuals must:

  • Be at least 18 years old and able to contract;
  • Not be related in any way that would prohibit a marriage in Pennsylvania;
  • Be each other's sole domestic partner;
  • Not have been in another domestic partnership in the past 6 months (absent death or marriage of the other partner);
  • Agree to share life necessities and be responsible for the welfare of the other; and
  • Share at least one residence together.

If the individuals meet these qualifications and agree to notify the City of any change in status, they may file a statement and show evidence of compliance to qualify as domestic partners.

Related Statute

Internal Revenue Code 26 U.S.C. §125 (Cafeteria Plans )

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Pennsylvania Domestic Partnership Laws: Related Resources

Get Legal Help with Domestic Partnerships in Pennsylvania

Though most of Pennsylvania doesn't recognize domestic partnerships, the City of Philadelphia sanctions these relationships for a small group of employees. For some of these individuals, questions may arise as to whether domestic partnership is more advantageous than marriage. For other individuals, a cohabitation agreement may be a more viable option as an alternative to marriage. To find out more and see how the law may benefit your particular situation, speak with a skilled family law attorney in Pennsylvania.

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