Same-sex marriage has become a much publicized issue in recent years. Pending the United States Supreme Court decision regarding the status of same-sex marriage in California same-sex couples in California may register as domestic partners with all of the same rights, at the state level, as spouses.
A California domestic partnership is “a legal relationship available to same-sex couples, and to certain opposite-sex couples in which at least one party is at least 18 years of age.” It affords the couple "the same rights, protections, and benefits, and... the same responsibilities, obligations, and duties under law..." as married spouses (legalinfo.ca.gov).
Similarities to Marriages
Currently, California affords domestic partnerships the same rights and responsibilities as marriages under state law. Among these:
- Making health care decisions for each other in certain circumstances
- Hospital and jail visitation rights that were previously reserved for family members related by blood, adoption or marriage.
- Access to family health insurance plans (Cal. Ins. Code §10121.7)
- Spousal insurance policies (auto, life, homeowners etc.), this applies to all forms of insurance through the California Insurance Equality Act (Cal. Ins. Code §381.5)
- Sick care and similar family leave
- Step-parent adoption procedures
- Presumption that both members of the partnership are the parents of a child born into the partnership
- Suing for wrongful death of a domestic partner
- Rights involving wills, intestate succession, conservatorships and trusts
- The same property tax provisions otherwise available only to married couples (Cal. R&T Code §62p)
- Access to some survivor pension benefits
- Supervision of the Superior Court of California over dissolution and nullity proceedings
- The obligation to file state tax returns as a married couple (260k) commencing with the 2007 tax year (Cal R&T Code §18521d)
- The right for either partner to take the other partner's surname after registration
- Community property rights and responsibilities previously only available to married spouses
- The right to request partner support (alimony) upon dissolution of the partnership (divorce)
- The same parental rights and responsibilities granted to and imposed upon spouses in a marriage (nclrights.org)
How to File for Domestic Partnership
Same-sex couples in California may want to register as domestic partners prior to a determination of whether or not they will be allowed to marry under California law. By registering as domestic partners, couples are entitled to all the rights and protections of state law. To qualify as domestic partners, couples must meet certain conditions. To register a domestic partnership in California, follow these guidelines.
1. Determine whether you and your partner meet the basic requirements to qualify for domestic-partnership status. Certain conditions must be met before a couple can formally apply for California domestic partnership with the Secretary of State' office. Requirements include:
- Partners must be the same sex, or at least 1 person in an opposite-sex domestic partnership must be at least 62 years old at the time of filing.
- Both people must be at least 18 years old.
- The partners must have a common residence. The primary residence doesn't have to be jointly owned.
- Neither partner may be married to or in a concurrent domestic partnership with another person.
- Partners cannot be related by blood.
- Both people must be mentally capable of consenting to the partnership.
2. Complete the application process as set forth by the California Secretary of State's office.
3. Download the Declaration of Domestic Partnership form (NP/SF DP-1) from the Secretary of State's website at www.sos.ca.gov.
4. Print and fill out the application. Incomplete forms will delay approval of your status.
5. Have both partners' signatures notarized.
6. Send the notarized application to the Secretary of State's office by mail with payment for the appropriate fee. Applications also can be delivered in person at the main office in Sacramento or the regional branch in Los Angeles.
- After you have filed your application, you will receive a Certificate of Registration of Domestic Partnership and an important brochure that outlines your rights with a domestic partnership.
7. Pay the fees associated with your particular form of domestic partnership.
- The additional fees for same-sex partnership applications go toward training and support of local organizations that educate the public on domestic-violence issues affecting the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities.
- Understand the scope of domestic-partnership laws. Laws that protect traditional couples also apply to domestic partners, including survivor's rights. Like married heterosexual couples, domestic partnerships are dissolved in the family court. To end a California domestic partnership, a couple must complete form NP/SF DP-2, Notice of Termination of Domestic Partnership. If all the requirements of the California Family Code are met, the office can terminate the partnership 6 months after the application is filed. Otherwise, issues surrounding the dissolution of the partnership must be resolved in California Superior Court.
- Hand-delivered applications are subject to an additional processing fee. Both offices accept payments by check, money order or credit card. The Sacramento office also accepts cash. The Los Angeles branch does not.
- In the event of the passage of significant legislation affecting domestic partnership, the Secretary of State's office will contact all people on the Domestic Partnership Registry and explain the impact of the new law. (http://www.sos.ca.gov/)
If you have any questions about Domestic Partnerships, please contact The Law Office of Matthew J. Rudy for a free 1-Hour Consultation.