Many people struggle to understand the small differences between a domestic partnership and marriage, especially now that California has made domestic partnerships legally available for same-sex and opposite-sex couples. After the United States voted to federally legalize same-sex marriage in 2015, same-sex and opposite-sex couples are now presented with multiple options to make their relationships legally official in the state of California. While the most common option for many people is marriage, domestic partnerships are another popular way of officiating a relationship through the law. Domestic partnerships give similar rights and benefits to marriages, but they are slightly different when it comes to the legality of it all.

Here’s what you need to know about the basics of domestic partnerships in California.

Domestic partnership vs marriage in California

How Does California Define Domestic Partnership?

California law defines a domestic partnership as “two adults who have chosen to share one another’s lives in an intimate and committed relationship of mutual caring.” It’s an option for couples who share domestic life but don’t necessarily want to get married. While it was once mainly used by same-sex couples in the past, California made domestic partnerships available to all couples in 2020.

Rights Granted in a Domestic Partnership vs. a Marriage

Marriages and domestic partnerships share a great deal of similarities, but they differ when it comes to the legal rights they provide. California law defines marriage as a civil contract of a personal relationship of two consenting adults, while a domestic partnership centers more around a couple that shares a domestic life together. While domestic partnerships offer plenty of benefits for couples considering making their relationship legally official, marriages offer over 1,000 different benefits for couples that take the civil union.

The rights you receive in each relationship differ:

  1. Rights You Receive From Marriage in California
    • Joint tax benefits
    • Estate planning benefits
    • Government benefits, such as social security
    • Insurance benefits
    • Financial support
    • Consumer benefits
    • Assets are divided in divorce
    • Assets can be transferred to a spouse without tax
    • Legal rights to children
    • The right to adopt
    • Visitation rights
  2. Rights You Receive from Domestic Partnerships in California
    • Avoid married tax penalty
    • Legal rights to children
    • The right to adopt
    • The right to bereavement leave
    • Family leave for a partner in need
    • Visitation rights
    • Inheritance rights

The Key Difference in Rights Between Domestic Partnerships and Marriage

In contrast to marriage, the main differences in a domestic partnership are that you cannot:

How Do You Register for a Domestic Partnership in California?

To register for a domestic partnership in California, you and your partner have three options through which to file. You can either register through the local government, through your place of employment, or through the state itself. To do so, you need to take the following steps:

  1. Check to See If You’re QualifiedThe first step of registering for a domestic partnership is ensuring both you and your partner meet all the proper criteria. To be able to apply, you and your partner:
    • Must share a common residency
    • Must share the responsibility for living expenses
    • Neither partner can be part of an active marriage or domestic partnership
    • Cannot be related by blood
    • Must be over the age of 18
  2. Begin the Application ProcessTo begin the application process, you can either make an appointment with your local Secretary of State or go to California’s Secretary of State online. There, you will be asked to fill out a variety of forms, one of which will be a Declaration of Domestic Partnership.
  3. Fill out Paperwork and Have Signatures NotarizedOnce you’ve received the correct paperwork from the Secretary of State, both you and your partner will carefully fill it out together. Your Declaration of Domestic Partnership will require both partners’ signatures, which you will then need to have notarized.
  4. Pay Applicable Fees and SubmitTo finalize your application, you and your partner can either drop off your paperwork at a Secretary of State or mail it back with the applied fees paid as well. From there, the State will get back to you and let you know when the process has been made official.

FAQs

Q: What is the difference between a domestic partnership and a marriage in California?

A: The main difference in California between a domestic partnership and a marriage regards the rights granted to the couple involved. While marriages and domestic partnerships both recognize couples that want to share their lives together, domestic partnerships do not receive all the same rights given to those who are married.

Q: What are the benefits of a domestic partnership in California?

A: There are a variety of benefits that come along with getting a domestic partnership in California, such as having the option of not getting married, avoiding a marriage tax, being legally recognized as a couple, receiving health insurance, child rights, family rights, and more.

Q: What are the disadvantages of a domestic partnership?

A: While a domestic partnership does open up a lot of avenues for couples looking to make their relationships legally binding, it also has its limitations. Partners involved in a domestic partnership cannot file federal taxes together, transfer unlimited assets without tax, or always receive family benefits through their insurance.

Q: Is a domestic partnership legal?

A: Yes. Domestic partnerships are legal for those who meet the proper criteria set out by the state of California.

Legal Representation for Domestic Partnerships

Whether you’re just getting into a domestic partnership or are looking to get out, our experienced attorneys here at the Law Offices of Dorie Rodgers are prepared to help with any of your domestic partnership needs. To learn more about marriages or domestic partnerships and the legal assistance we can provide for you, contact our team here.