A common misconception about the domestic partnership in California (also known as domestic partnership registration) is that it's basically the same thing as marriage. Even some knowledgeable people don't seem to understand the real distinctions between domestic partnership and marriage.

Nor do they fully comprehend the benefits of each status when it comes to property rights, taxes, and other family law matters in California. Let's break down how domestic partnership vs. marriage differs and whether it might be right for your family.


What Does Domestic Partnership Mean In California?

In California, a domestic partnership is a formal legal union of two adults who are not members of the same sex and are at least 18 years old. It is designed for couples who do not wish to get married but would like to be able to formally take care of each other and their children financially and medically if one partner becomes sick or injured.

Domestic partners have all the same rights as married couples except for those that pertain to property ownership and inheritance benefits.


What About Marriage In California?

Couples who want to marry in California may do so as long as they meet certain requirements. To get married in California, one or both of you must be a CA resident for at least 90 days and over 18 years old. Once you're ready, you can definitely apply for a marriage license from your county recorder's office.

You'll have to provide proof of identity and age. You'll also need your SSN - Social Security Number or ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number), & necessary IDs. If either person has been divorced before, they must present a certified copy of their divorce - decree when applying for a marriage license.

It is possible to get married in other states prior to moving to California. When registering with the county clerk where you live, you will simply ask them to waive the residency requirement and bring a photocopy of your previous certificate of marriage along with your ID.


Marriage Vs. Domestic Partnerships In California

There is no legal difference between marriage and a domestic partnership in California, but there are some financial benefits to marriage over a domestic partnership:

1-  You do not need to pay state income tax on your partner's Social Security income if you are married and filing jointly.

2- You can definitely file as head of household, which allows for a higher standard deduction if you are married & filing jointly.

3- If one spouse dies, their social security income will not be taxed at all if they were married when they died.

4- A surviving spouse would receive one-half of their deceased spouse's - social security benefit if they were married when the person died.

5- In contrast, a surviving domestic partner will only get one-third of their deceased partner's social security benefit if they are unmarried.

6- Employers may choose to provide family health coverage that includes spouses or domestic partners; they may also decide to cover just an employee's immediate family members.

7- Legal rights of domestic partners in California

In the State of California, two people who are unmarried and at least 18 years old can form a domestic partnership as long as they meet specific eligibility requirements. Domestic partners enjoy many of the same rights and benefits that married couples do, but not all of them. For example, both parties to a marriage must agree before one partner may adopt the other's child.

But for this rule to apply to domestic partners, only one party needs to consent if he or she is related to the child by blood or adoption. Another major difference is that it is much easier for a spouse to make medical decisions for his or her significant other than it would be for an unmarried partner.

Lastly, spouses have more protections against discriminatory housing practices than their unmarried counterparts have under state law. So which should you choose-domestic partnership or marriage? The answer depends on what you're looking for.

If you want your union to have all of the legal ramifications, including automatic inheritance and custody rights and joint responsibility over property, then get married! But if you don't care about any such benefits, then stick with being a couple.


Why Do Couples Choose One Over The Other?

Couples who live in a domestic partnership enjoy many of these same benefits as married couples, but they actually do not have all the same rights & responsibilities as married couples. For example, domestic partnerships are not recognized outside of California, while marriage is a universal institution.

Married partners can share property and make decisions about each other's health care, children, and finances; domestic partners cannot make any of those decisions on behalf of their partner. Couples may want to consider what type of relationship best suits their individual needs before committing to one over the other.

A domestic partnership provides certain legal protections but doesn't provide some protections that married partners receive. When considering if marriage or a civil union is more appropriate for you, it is important to look at your current situation and future plans with your partner before making any final decisions.


Financial Implications Of Marriage Over Domestic Partnerships

There are many financial implications of marriage over a domestic partnership that you should be aware of before making a decision. The most significant difference is that married couples have more rights to each other's property and income than domestic partners.

For example, if one spouse dies, their inheritance will automatically pass to the other spouse instead of going into probate court as it would for a domestic partner. Married couples also have more say in end-of-life decisions, such as what happens to your estate after death or whether you want someone else to make vital medical decisions for you when you actually cannot speak for yourself.

Furthermore, married spouses can file taxes together and qualify for joint tax rates, which can result in significant savings compared with filing separately or jointly as domestic partners.


How To Get Into A Domestic Partnership In California

In order to enter into a domestic partnership, you & your partner must be at least 18 years old or emancipated minors who have a legal right to marry. You must also both live within California for at least six months before entering into the partnership, and neither of you can be married to someone else -or- in another domestic partnership with someone else.

With these requirements met, you will need to file an application form with the California (SOS) Secretary of State along with some supporting documents & IDs, etc.

How To Dissolve A Domestic Partnership

If you're a resident of California, you can dissolve your domestic partnership with your partner by filing a petition for dissolution of domestic partnership with the superior court of the county where either party resides.

A copy of this petition must be served on your partner, who will have 21 days from receipt to respond or otherwise appear before the court and show cause why the dissolution should not be granted; this is called an answer to the complaint.

If your partner does not respond, the court may grant the dissolution based on that lack of response. Once you've filed your petition for dissolution of domestic partnership, there are three steps to complete before it can become final. These steps are as follows:

1. Service

Service refers to delivering your paperwork to the other party - they'll need to fill out their portion and return it.

2. Hearing

Hearing means appearing in court so that the judge can hear any arguments & decide whether or not there's enough evidence for him/her to agree with granting the dissolution of the domestic partnership.

3. Judgment

Judgment means signing a document confirming that you want the relationship dissolved. Once the dissolution becomes final, you'll no longer be considered domestic partners under California law. The termination process should take at least six months from when you file the petition for dissolution of the domestic partnership.

Bottom Line

The difference between marriage and a domestic partnership is that a marriage is a legally binding contract, while a domestic partnership is not. Domestic partnerships are often formed when couples want to take advantage of certain benefits available only to couples who are registered domestic partners with the state, such as hospital visitation rights and joint property ownership.

However, there are some disadvantages to registering for a domestic partnership. These include taxes, insurance & health care coverage, which can be more complicated than they would be - if you were married. There are also restrictions on how two people may jointly file their tax returns.

To avoid these complications, many people choose to get married instead of entering into a domestic partnership. If you already live together and share most of your financial responsibilities, it might make sense to marry rather than enter into a domestic partnership.

If one partner has children from another relationship or an ex-spouse, however, it may not make sense to get married because the couple cannot adopt each other's children or protect each other's parental rights without going through additional steps that come with getting a divorce or annulment.

Jos Family Law