In 2019 a new law was put into effect in California allowing opposite-sex couples of all ages to enter into a Domestic Partnership for the first time in the state’s history. Previously only same-sex couples of any age or opposite gender couples over the age of 62 could bypass the legality of marriage and enter into a Domestic Partnership. 

Now, those laws have changed and it will be interesting to see the impact this new law will have on the state of matrimony in the Golden State according to divorce attorney in Woodland Hills.

Before same-sex marriages were legal in California, the closest thing two men or two women could get to honor their union and commitment was entering into a Domestic Partnership. Since the state legalized same-sex marriages in 2013 (which also led to same-sex divorces), those couples now had a choice between the two different types of legal unions.

Opposite-sex couples below the age of 62 years old, have long felt that they deserved the same options. While religious groups and particularly conservative advocacy groups sounded the alarm that allowing Domestic Partnerships for opposite-sex couples of any age would erode the sanctity of marriage, the law passed in California setting the stage for family law attorneys in Woodland Hills and all state counties to start drawing up Domestic Partnership agreements. Let’s explore why a Domestic Partnership can be a preferred choice over traditional marriage.

Why a Domestic Partnership?

For some people it is precisely the Biblical and religious overtones attached to matrimony that some people prefer to avoid. Some couples feel greater freedom in honoring their commitment within a more casual structure that is so staunchly filed with a traditional marriage license. 

Others who were previously married, may wish to avoid the often unspoken stigma of attaching a multiple number to the times in which they have been wedded. In a different scenario, for those whose spouse passed away, there may be the feeling of honoring the memory of their dearly departed by not marrying again. Thus, a Domestic Partnership is the preferred choice.

Even without the Domestic Partnership in place for all couples of any age, marriage numbers were dropping. Of all Americans over the age of 18, only about half were married in 2017 which was nearly ten percent less than the number of married people as reported in 1990. 

What Is and Isn’t Covered in a Domestic Partnership

It’s important to note that while California now recognizes a broader spectrum of Domestic Partnerships, those unions are still not acknowledged federally. Thus, in the partnership some rights or privileges shown to a married couple do not apply, such as:

  • Adoption of a child born in another country.
  • Sponsorship of a partner who is not a U.S. citizen.
  • Enjoying some of the rights that married couples would be given when entering states that do not recognize the partnership.
  • Sharing some federally regulated employee benefits that a married couple would be given jointly.

On the plus side, all Domestic Partners are granted the same California-granted legal rights that were previously given only to same-sex couples or opposite-sex couples over 62 years old. 

  • Either person being able to take their domestic partner’s last name, or choosing a name combining the two individuals’ last names. 
  • Protections for the surviving domestic partner should one partner die.
  • The legal rights and obligations related to raising a child born during the domestic partnership.
  • The ability to adopt a child previously born to a domestic partner.
  • The ability to add a domestic partner to state-administered health benefits.
  • The right to own community property.

As with any legal union, it’s important to first meet with a Family Law specialist in your local vicinity be it Woodland Hills or Calabasas to fully understand your rights as there still are some exceptions to the new Domestic Partnership law.

  • Similar to marriage, the couple cannot be blood relatives.
  • People under the age of 18 years old need a court order or signed letter of parental consent.
  • Bigamy still applies to the notion of a Domestic Partnership, so those who are already in a partnership (or marriage) cannot enter into a new one. (Of course, you can legally marry an individual with whom you already share a Domestic Partnership.)

How a Domestic Partnership Affects Finances 

As in marriage, domestic partners may share in their partner’s benefits as they relate to health or life insurance, death benefits, parental rights and, of course, taxes. 

When it comes to taxes, however, there are two different beasts to consider: state and federal taxes. Domestic Partners filing taxes in California are treated the same as a married couple. However, the federal government does not treat the domestic partners similarly. 

Thus, registered domestic partners are not considered married for federal tax purposes and must file as individuals. Consulting with a tax attorney or family law specialist is key in knowing exactly where you stand not only for annual filings, but in the unfortunate case where the domestic partnership needs to be dissolved according to the law offices of Leon F. Bennett

In one way, not filing as a couple on the federal level may be a benefit as a married couple filing jointly may have a combined income that propels them into a higher tax bracket. 

Back on the state level, since California recognizes the partnership, both parties can participate in state disability assistance.

For those whose previous spouse passed and currently receives a survivor’s rights to the deceased’s assets, a domestic partnership might be preferred to continue receiving those funds. A marriage in this scenario would nullify those deserved benefits.

Is There “Divorce” in a Domestic Partnership?

Not that we enter into a new relationship with the thought of termination, but it is an obvious scenario that can unfortunately happen. The good news according to the Law Office of Leon F. Bennett, a leading Woodland Hills family law firm, is that there are certain scenarios where a domestic partnership can be terminated without the threat of Divorce Litigation hanging over the couple’s collective head.

Circumstance where the partnership can be nullified include:

Couples who have been domestic partnered for less than five years and have no children, can get their partnership nullified without going to court. However, couples who have been in the partnership longer than five years or do share children will need to see an attorney as the legal process then becomes very similar to a married or same-sex divorce

It’s also advisable to establish a prenuptial agreement even in the domestic partnership to assure that individual assets don’t automatically become community property in a divorce proceeding. 

A family lawyer can help with establishing a domestic partnership, organizing a prenuptial agreement and even assist in the case of the partnership needing to end. 

About the Leon F. Bennett Family Law Firm

With over 35 years of experience as a divorce attorney in woodland hills, the Family Law Firm of Leon F. Bennett and his seasoned legal team have helped families reach mutually agreeable decisions regarding matters of divorce, custody, support, and the many rights and agreements associated with family law services. We offer a free first-time consultation to qualified candidates.

We handle cases of Domestic Partnership and all Divorce Litigation or Collaborative-Mediation in Southern California and the Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Riverside and Orange County areas. We represent clients in communities such as Woodland Hills, Calabasas, Agoura Hills, Oak Park, Westlake Village, Malibu, Thousand Oaks, Newbury Park, Camarillo, Moorpark, Oxnard, Pacific Palisades, Ventura County, Simi Valley, Santa Clarita, Valencia, Northridge, Tarzana, Sherman Oaks, Studio City, Santa Monica and Beverly Hills. Contact us today to help find a suitable family law solution with compassion and closure.