Domestic Partnership vs. Marriage: The Legal Advantages and Disadvantages of Each (2023)

In California, a Registered Domestic Partnership is a legally acknowledged relationship that provides non-married couples similar benefits as those obtainable by married individuals. A domestic partnership is available to both same-sex and certain opposite-sex couples where at least one partner is 62 years or older. It offers the couples equal rights such as benefits and protection, and the same obligations as married couples. A registered domestic partnership suggests a dedicated relationship. However, it’s worth noting that you may not be able to enjoy the benefits and protections provided in California if you travel to another state or country.

If you have any concerns related to the issue of domestic partnership, it’s imperative to contact a knowledgeable and experienced California domestic partnership attorney. At San Diego Divorce Attorney, our seasoned attorney will help you understand these agreements and whether a registered domestic partnership is the best choice for your relationship.

Establishing a Domestic Partnership in California

Fam. Code section 297outlines the requirements that must be met for a domestic partnership to be registered in California. Partners who meet these requirements will be required to file eitherof the following forms:

Once the declaration is filed, the partners will be provided with a copy of the declaration and a certificate of registration of Domestic Partnership. One unique feature of a Confidential Declaration of Domestic Partnership is that it’s a permanent record that remains confidential and strict rules apply to any member of the public who wishes to get access to a copy of the certificate. Any other individual interested in getting a copy of the certificate must have a certified court order giving them access to the form. This, however, is not the case with a Declaration of Domestic Partnership as it is in the public domain and anyone wishing to have access is free to do so.

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While filing a California Declaration of Domestic Partnership, it important to make sure that every information you provide is accurate. A domestic partnership attorney could be a great resource in guiding you through and reviewing the final papers. This will help you avoid serious offenses of filing an invalid California Declaration of Domestic Partnership, which is treated as a misdemeanor.

Eligibility of Domestic Partnerships in California

In California, the eligibility criteria for registration of a domestic partnership is primarily set by the statute. Requirements for entering into a domestic partnership to some extent varies from those applied in marriage, but similarities also exist.

  • The suitability age of same-sex couples applying for a domestic partnership requires that both parties involved must be 18 years and above or have acquired a court order permitting them to establish a domestic partnership. On the other hand, the eligibility age of opposite-sex partners is that one partner must be at least 62 years or older
  • The partners applying for a domestic partnership are not in any way related by blood in a manner that prevents them from getting into marriage in California
  • Neither of the partners is committed to another marriage or another existing registered domestic partnership with a different person that has not been dissolved, terminated, or nullified by the court
  • Both parties involved have the capacity of consenting to a domestic partnership

If a couple chooses to establish a confidential domestic partnership, it’s a requirement that both parties must share a common residence.

Caution Before Registering for a Domestic Partnership

The federal government doesn’t acknowledge domestic partnerships and there are groups of individuals who should be extra careful prior toregisteringas domestic partners. They include:

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  • People considering to adopt a child from another country
  • Binational spouses (one of the partners is not a United States citizen but they currently reside in the United States either with proper documentation or a non-immigrant visa)
  • Couples where one or both parties are in the Military
  • Couples where one or both spouses receive benefits such as Medi-Cal or SSI

If you fall under any of the groups mentioned above, it’s imperative that you consult an attorney before deciding to establish a domestic partnership.

California Domestic Partner Rights and Responsibilities Act of 2003 (A.B. 205)

This act offers similar rights and duties to same-sex couples as those of married spouses. This also allows for acknowledgment of same-sex unions in other jurisdictions. A.B. 205 provides that domestic partners have a financial responsibility for one another, during the relationship and even after it comes to an end. Under this act, domestic partners are liable for each other’s debts and this means that if the relationship is terminated, the debts will be shared equally. Benefits that domestic partners enjoy include:

  • Guardianship
  • Accident and Life Insurance
  • Inheritance
  • Sick leave
  • Parental leave
  • Bereavement
  • Health, vision, and dental insurance
  • Relocation
  • Use of recreational facilities
  • Housing rights and tuition reduction

At San Diego Divorce Attorney, we can help you understand your rights and obligations, prepare the necessary documents, and oversee your registration to the end. When entering a domestic partnership, the agreement created should be thought out and drafted in order to fully detail every aspect that both partners wantincluded. You can rely on the expertise of our attorneys for effective and constructive advice. We’ll help you negotiate, draft, and review the agreements.

Registered Domestic Partnership and Parenting

When it comes to a child born to either of the registered domestic partners, the rights and responsibilities are similar to those given to spouses. This, therefore, means that both parties automatically become the legal parents of the child regardless of their biological relationship with the child. For homosexual females using artificial insemination to have a child, the couple can have their names indicated on the child’s original birth certificates at the hospital of birth. Gay men using a surrogate will be required to obtain a court order of parentage prior to having their names included on the original birth certificate of the child in question. This is also applicable to an opposite-sex married couple who uses a surrogate.

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Even with this automatic legal protection for any child born to registered domestic partners, it’s important for all couples to acquire a court verdict showing that the partners are the legal parents of the child. A court judgment is significant as it ensures that the child’s legal relationship with either parent will be respected by the federal government and other state governments. Furthermore, it helps in the exclusion of any chances of dispute and lawsuit over this matter if the parents separate. To obtain a court judgment, there are two options, including obtaining a judgment on child custody or completing an adoption. Determining which option best suits your case depends on your family’s specific conditions. Domestic partners who already have or are planning to have children should, therefore, consult with a seasoned family law attorney to discuss their options.

Property Owned by Registered Domestic Partners

Once registered as domestic partners, both you and your partner have the absolute right to own real estate as community property with the right of survivorship. Just like joint tenancy, owning a real estate as community property with the right of survivorship has the benefit of transferring the property to the surviving spouse without partaking probate. The only disadvantage is that domestic partners might not be able to obtain federal tax benefits related to holding property as community property. This may include a double stepped-up basis for capital gains if the survivor decides to sell the property due to lack of federal acknowledgment of domestic partnerships. If you are planning to acquire property with your domestic partner, it’s imperative you consult a skilled attorney about your condition and the most appropriate form of ownership for you before you can proceed with your plan.

With the non-acknowledgment of registered domestic partnerships by the federal government, transferring assets amongst domestic partners will be taxed either as a gift or income. This is regardless of whether the transfer is part of or associated with the dissolution proceeding.

Termination of Domestic Partnership

Registered domestic partners who would like to end their union must be involved in a court dissolution proceeding. This is one of the most important section of the termination process. Before the change of laws surrounding domestic partnerships in 2005, couples registered as domestic partners could easily terminate their relationship by mailing in a filled form to the office of Secretary of State. However, there is only a small subsection of individuals with the capacity to end their domestic partnership without having to obtain court’s approval. For you to be eligible to use this process in your case, you and your partner must meet the following requirements as provided byCalifornia Family Code section 299;

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  • You and your partner do not rent any buildings or land
  • Both you and your partner agree to terminate your domestic partnership
  • You do not own any part of buildings or land
  • Do not have debts exceeding $6,000 since the date you registered your domestic partnership
  • Your separate property does not exceed $40,000 (minus cars)
  • You don’t have children together either born or adopted prior or during the course of your registered domestic partnership
  • You both agree that neither partners want partner support for the other
  • Both you and your partner have signed a contract that concern division of all the property you own, including cars. The agreement could as well state that there is no debts or community property to be shared
  • Both you and your partner have been registered as domestic partners for less than 5 years

Individuals who meet the requirements stated above can terminate their domestic partnership by filing a Notice of Termination of Domestic Partnership. The termination will take effect six months from the date of filing the petition. If you choose to terminate your relationship through this means, be prepared to face similar consequences as the entry of a judgment applied in the dissolution of marriage.

However, most people may fail to meet all the requirements of California Family Code section 299 and are therefore required to terminate their registered domestic partnership by going through a court proceeding. It’s during this proceeding, that the court will separate the partner’s assets and establish custody determinations for couples with children. Furthermore, the court will decide whether spousal support is obligatory.

How can a couple terminate their Registered Domestic Partnership if they no longer live in California?

For a couple to register as domestic partners in California, they must agree to let courts in California to have jurisdiction over both dissolution and other proceedings concerning the status of their domestic partner. This will, therefore, allow you to terminate your registered domestic partnership in California regardless of where you reside. If this is your situation, make sure you consult an attorney who’s well informed on LGBT matters in California. He or she can help to determine whether you can terminate your domestic partnership in the state where you currently live or whether you should come back and do it in California.

Annulling a registered Domestic Partnership in California

A registered domestic partnership can also be ended through an annulment. In this case, one of the partners is requesting the court to invalidate the domestic partnership registration and bring about a situation similar to one when the registration had not taken place. For a domestic partnership to be eligible for annulment, it should meet the requirement set out below:

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  • When the domestic partner was registered, one was a minor under the age of eighteen years,
  • One partner was already in a registered domestic relationship or married at the time the registration was done
  • One of the partners was coerced into the domestic relationship partnership, or
  • One partner was mentally or physically incapacitated at the time of registration

Speak to a Family Law Attorney at San Diego Divorce Attorney Today

Domestic partnership law in California keeps on changing and this makes the process of solving legal, emotional, and even financial issues related to domestic partnership complicated. Our divorce attorneys specialize in helping clients to comprehend differed rights and obligations provided under California law. If you and your partner agree to a dissolution of your union, you can rely on San Diego Divorce Attorney for seasoned legal guidance. We help domestic partners with the complex division of property, assets, and debts, partner support, and parenting issues if a child is involved.Contact ustoday at 858-529-5150 to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation and case review.


What is the difference between a domestic partnership and marriage? ›

The difference between marriage and a domestic partnership is that a marriage is a legally binding contract, while a domestic partnership is not.

What are the disadvantages of a domestic partnership? ›

What are the Cons of a Domestic Partnership?
  • Domestic partners cannot receive social security benefits from their significant other in the event of death.
  • Domestic partners are unable to file taxes jointly.
  • Domestic partners may not be able to adopt children.
May 5, 2023

Is a domestic partnership the same as a relationship? ›

A domestic partnership is a relationship, usually between couples, who live together and share a common domestic life, but are not married (to each other or to anyone else). People in domestic partnerships receive legal benefits that guarantee right of survivorship, hospital visitation, and other rights.

What is the difference between marriage and domestic partnership in NYC? ›

A marriage is a legal contract that can only be ended by divorce, while a domestic partnership does not have to be ended through any specific process and can be ended simply by one person moving out of state. Additionally, marriages confer federal benefits that are not available to domestic partnerships.

Can domestic partners file taxes together? ›

Registered domestic partners may not file a federal return using a married filing separately or jointly filing status. Registered domestic partners are not married under state law. Therefore, these taxpayers are not married for federal tax purposes.

What are the two main advantages and disadvantages of partnerships? ›

More equity available to finance the business compared to a sole traderUnlimited liability
Different partners can bring different skillsProfit is shared between the partners
Workload is sharedPartners may not always agree on decisions for the business

What are the benefits of marriage vs domestic partnership? ›

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 ...

How what does it mean to be in a domestic partnership? ›

In California the Family Code defines Domestic Partners as, "… two adults who have chosen to share one another's lives in an intimate and committed relationship of mutual caring."

Does the state of Missouri recognize domestic partners? ›

Persons of opposite sexes or the same sex can be recognized as domestic partners in St. Louis, MO. To register, there is a form to fill out and a fee of $10. A civil union is a term often used interchangeably with the domestic partnership, but Missouri does not officially recognize civil unions.

Is a boyfriend considered a domestic partner? ›

A domestic partnership is an arrangement in which two people live together and are in a committed relationship without being legally married. It shares many of the same benefits as being married. Domestic partnerships are composed of two people of any gender, which includes male, female, or nonbinary people.


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