A domestic partnership is a formal agreement between two parties who cohabitate, often in a romantic rather than platonic relationship, that includes certain benefits — typically financial or medical in nature.
The laws surrounding domestic partnerships and marriage depend on the individual state laws. This page provides an overview of domestic partnerships with answers to common questions. For specific questions related to your situation, make sure to consult with a top family law attorney where you live.
Domestic partnerships, although seemingly similar to civil unions or formal marriages, are legally distinct from both. Prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage as a result of the Obergefell v. Hodges decision in 2015, domestic partnerships were the most common option for same-sex partners seeking recognition of their union and any rights. Since the legalization of same-sex marriage at the federal level, the popularity — and in some cases, the provisions laid out by state governments — has declined.
Currently, seven states (or jurisdictions, in the case of the District of Columbia) recognize domestic partnership: California, Washington D.C., Maine, Nevada, Oregon, Washington state, and Wisconsin.
Hawaii essentially provides for an equivalent to the domestic partnership known as a reciprocal partnership. Other states, including Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Vermont, and New Jersey allow for civil unions. In states without domestic partnerships or civil unions, some cities and municipalities may also provide benefits to domestic partners.
Applying for a domestic partnership is relatively simple in most cases, providing that both would-be partners meet the common criteria set for establishing said partnerships. Broadly, both prospective partners entering into a domestic partnership must be 18 years of age, must be mentally sound and competent, must live together with the intent for this living arrangement to be permanent, and must not be closely related to one another.
Provided that all of these qualifiers are met, couples then must fill out the paperwork found at the local city, county, or state clerk's office, or their respective websites. In more complex situations, you might need to consult an attorney specializing in family law to determine the best way to move forward.
The most frequently sought benefits relating to domestic partnerships are those typically also sought by couples more interested in marriage or a civil union. Health benefits, bereavement leave and visitation rights pertaining to hospital stays or jail sentences are just some of the benefits afforded to members of a domestic partnership.
However, as domestic partnerships are not recognized at the federal level, certain benefits such as being able to collect a partner's social security benefits are not available to couples.
An affidavit of domestic partnership (or declaration of domestic partnership) is a form filled out once a domestic partnership has been formally recognized, to extend or establish the union with a third-party agency, typically an insurer of some sort.
For example, if one member of a newly formed domestic partnership holds health insurance, they would be quite likely to file an affidavit of domestic partnership to the insurance company in order to extend their own health insurance coverage to the partner without health coverage.
Following the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015, the popularity of both domestic partnerships and civil unions waned. Civil unions are currently only legal in Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Vermont, and New Jersey. Couples in domestic partnerships are exempt from any federal entitlements typically afforded to married couples, and civil unions face this same difficulty. Only recognized marriages, same-sex or opposite sex, provide federal benefits and entitlements related to the union. In this way, domestic partnerships and civil unions are more alike than either are to marriage.
Some states, such as Florida, New York, and Texas do not provide for domestic partnerships at the state level. However, exceptions do exist. In Texas, some counties such as Travis County, and some cities such as the cities of Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio recognize domestic partnerships, maintaining their independent registries.
The same is true in Florida, where state-wide provisions for registering domestic partnerships do not exist, but the counties of Broward, Leon, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Orange, and Palm Beach do provide their own registries and mechanisms to apply. Likewise, the cities of Gainesville, Key West, Miami Beach, Sarasota, and Tampa have municipal registries in support of applicants seeking to establish a domestic partnership.