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Domestic Partnership vs. Marriage in California: What’s the Difference?

Domestic Partnership vs. Marriage in California What’s the Difference

Domestic partnerships and marriages are both recognized by Californian law but individuals in these two types of relationships are not granted the same rights.

This is the main difference between domestic partnerships and marriages — and you should be aware of your rights regardless of whether you’re in a same-sex or opposite-sex relationship.

It remains more common for couples in California to get married than enter a domestic partnership but here’s what you need to know if you and your partner are considering your options.

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How does California define domestic partnerships?

A domestic partnership is a relationship that involves:

“Two adults who have chosen to share one another’s lives in an intimate and committed relationship of mutual caring.”

So, if you live as a couple in a marriage-like relationship, it can be recognized legally as a domestic partnership instead of having to formalize the relationship with a marriage ceremony.

A marriage is a civil contract of a personal relationship of two consenting adults and a ceremony is required.

In the past, domestic partnerships were predominantly used by same-sex couples but since same-sex marriage was legalized at the federal level in 2015 and domestic partnerships were made available to all couples in California in 2020, the emphasis has shifted.

Domestic partnerships vs. marriage

On the face of it, domestic partnerships and marriages are very similar. The main difference between them centers around the legal rights afforded to individuals in such relationships.

Under Californian law, marriages offer more benefits than domestic partnerships, as you can see from the following breakdown of rights:

Rights you receive from a marriage in California

  • Joint tax benefits
  • Estate planning benefits
  • Government benefits, such as social security
  • Insurance benefits
  • Financial support
  • Consumer benefits
  • Division of assets
  • Transfer of assets to a spouse without tax
  • Legal rights to children
  • The right to adopt
  • Visitation rights

Rights you receive from a domestic partnership in California

  • No married tax penalty
  • Legal rights to children
  • The right to adopt
  • Family leave for a partner in need
  • Visitation rights
  • Bereavement leave
  • Inheritance rights

It’s worth noting here that if you are in a domestic partnership in California, you cannot file taxes jointly or transfer unlimited assets without paying tax, as you can do in a marriage. Neither are you entitled to your partner’s social security, government benefits or confirmed family benefits (through insurance).

If partners separate in a domestic partnership, there is no “community property “law stating that assets must be divided equally, like with a divorce.

These differences apply mainly due to discrepancies between federal laws and state laws.

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How do you register for a domestic partnership in California?

The main benefit of a domestic partnership in California is that you can live like a married couple and be recognized under the law as such without going through the marriage process, which not everybody enjoys.

There are also some financial benefits, such as tax and health insurance benefits, employment (leave) benefits and child and family rights benefits for those who formalize a domestic partnership.

What are the benefits of a domestic partnership in California?

When judges issue orders, they base the rulings on the circumstances at the time. If these circumstances change substantially, the old orders will still apply unless the father or mother requests a modification.

For instance, say you lose your job and find a new position that pays 25 percent less than the previous job. The court order(s) for child support and spousal support based on the old salary will be out of date but will still apply until you request the judge to issue a modified order. Failure to request this can cripple your finances.

Similarly, if the amount of parenting time that a father spends with the children changes materially, a new child support order may be required to reflect this.

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How do I end a domestic partnership in California?

Ending a domestic partnership can be as challenging as ending a marriage. In addition to the emotional “fallout”, many couples break up without considering the legal ramifications of doing so.

When you enter a domestic partnership, you committed to a legal relationship between you and your partner. When that relationship ends, there are legal consequences you should be aware of.

A domestic partnership in California can end in one of two ways:

  1. Termination
  2. Dissolution

To terminate a domestic partnership, you’ll need to file a Notice of Termination with the Secretary of State. You will need to meet the following requirements before doing so:

  • Both partners must agree to the termination
  • The relationship must be less than five years old
  • Both partners must read and comprehend documentation relating to terminating a domestic partnership in California
  • Property shares (if applicable) must be worth less than $43,000 (excluding vehicles and loans)
  • The domestic partners must not share any biological or adopted children
  • Any shared debts or financial obligations must not exceed $6,000 (excluding vehicles)
  • Neither domestic partner can be pregnant at the time the Notice of Termination is filed
  • The domestic partners must agree to and sign a property settlement agreement
  • The partners must agree that neither wants spousal support from the other following the termination (except if it’s otherwise specified in the settlement agreement).

If both partners meet all of the above criteria, a Notice of Termination can be filed. You’ll need to wait for at least six months (the waiting period) for the termination to become official.

The dissolution of a domestic partnership is for longer relationships of over five years. The process of dissolution is more complex than termination as the courts must be involved. It is similar in complexity to the divorce process when marriages end.

Decisions may need to be made on key matters like spousal support, property division, child custody, visitation, fathers’ rights, and child support.

If you’re based in the Los Angeles area and need to discuss a legal matter involving a domestic partnership, the family attorneys at The Sands Law Group APLC can help. Contact us or call at 213-788-4412 today for a free 15-minute phone consultation about your case.

Child support and father’s rights

The noncustodial parent will be responsible for paying child support in California and parents and judges are provided with a set of guidelines for calculating this requirement.

The amount of support payable is generally based on the paying parent’s income and other relevant factors — and the paying parent will be expected to pay on time until the child reaches the age of majority (18), at least. Fines, garnished wages or even jail time are possible if the child support payments are not met.

Remember, if a support order is out of date due to a significant change of circumstances, a parent must request a modification before any new arrangement legally comes into effect.

Child Custody and father’s rights

Custody can be determined through an informal agreement between parents in California. As long as it is in the best interests of the child, the court should approve it.

Otherwise, a court order can be issued to declare where the child should live (sometimes called ”physical custody”), parental visitation and who is responsible for making decisions for the child (“legal custody”).

If you’re based in California and you need to assert or protect your father’s rights during a divorce, the family attorneys at The Sands Law Group APLC can help. Contact us or call at 213-788-4412 today for a free 15-minute phone consultation about your case.

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