Domestic Partnership vs. Marriage: Legal Differences and Benefits

Domestic partnership involves individuals who voluntarily share their lives in a committed relationship but are not married. It's a significant relationship, akin to marriage in many aspects, but without a formal marriage contract. On the other hand, marriage is a legally recognized civil contract between two individuals, signifying a deep commitment. Both domestic partnership and marriage carry legal implications that impact various aspects of life.

Understanding the legal differences and benefits between domestic partnership and marriage is crucial. While individuals in domestic partnerships enjoy many of the same rights and responsibilities as married couples, nuanced differences can have significant implications. Some legal provisions may not be explicitly outlined in California statutes, affecting property rights, spousal support, and inheritance. Moreover, it's important to note that domestic partners and married couples may face different treatment for federal tax purposes, which can impact financial planning.

Given the complexities involved, individuals contemplating domestic partnership or marriage should consider consulting a family law attorney. An experienced lawyer can provide tailored advice based on individual circumstances and help navigate the legal intricacies, ensuring that decisions are well-informed and legally sound.

At Claery & Hammond, LLP, we handle family law matters and serve clients in Los Angeles. Contact us at (310) 817-6904 today.

Defining a Domestic Partnership

A domestic partnership is a legal status that recognizes a committed and intimate relationship between two people who choose to live and share their domestic life. While these individuals are not married, they receive legal benefits and rights like those of married couples. Domestic partnerships are a significant relationship arrangement that carries certain legal implications.

Who Can Enter into a Domestic Partnership?

California Family Code § 297 lists the eligibility requirements to enter a domestic partnership.

These criteria include the following:

  • Neither person entering the domestic partnership can be married to or in a domestic partnership with someone else. This underscores the exclusivity of the domestic partnership.
  • The two individuals entering the domestic partnership must not be blood relatives, emphasizing the absence of close familial ties.
  • Both parties must be at least 18 years of age.
  • Both parties must be capable of providing their informed consent to enter the domestic partnership, ensuring that the decision is made willingly and without coercion.

Legal Recognition of Domestic Partnerships in California

In California, domestic partnerships are legally recognized, and individuals who wish to enjoy the rights provided by state law must take specific steps. This involves registering the domestic partnership with California's Secretary of State by filing the Declaration of Domestic Partnership form. This formal registration ensures that the partnership is recognized under the law, granting the couple legal rights and responsibilities similar to those of married couples.

Marriage: Legal Definitions and Requirements

In the legal context, marriage is defined as a civil contract between two persons. This definition is per the California Family Code § 300. Marriage is a social or emotional commitment and a legally binding agreement that carries specific rights and responsibilities.

Legal Requirements for Getting Married in California

Couples wishing to enter a valid marriage must meet certain legal requirements.

Below are the eligibility criteria for getting married:

  • Age requirement: Generally, both parties must be 18 years of age or older. This age requirement ensures that individuals are considered adults and can legally consent to marriage.
  • In-person presence: Both individuals who intend to marry must be present in person to obtain a marriage license. This requirement ensures that the decision to marry is made willingly by both parties.
  • Mutual consent: Both individuals must willingly consent to the marriage. This mutual agreement is a fundamental aspect of a legal marriage contract.
  • Marital status: Both individuals must be unmarried at the time of marriage. This requirement ensures that there are no existing legal impediments to the marriage.

The Significance of a Marriage License

The marriage license is a crucial document in the process of getting married. According to California Family Code § 421, the marriage license must be presented to an authorized individual to solemnize the marriage. This solemnization legally formalizes the marriage and recognizes the relationship as a legal union. The marriage license serves as evidence of the legal commitment. It ensures that the marriage complies with state laws.

Legal Differences Between Domestic Partnership and Marriage

Under California law, per California Family Code § 297.5, domestic partners and married spouses generally enjoy the same legal rights. These rights encompass various aspects, including property ownership, child custody, and protection against discrimination.

The statute doesn't exhaustively list all domestic partners' rights, responsibilities, obligations, and duties. When there's uncertainty about which rights apply in specific situations, consulting a family law attorney is beneficial. They can provide tailored guidance based on individual circumstances, ensuring that one's legal rights and responsibilities are fully understood and protected.

Tax Implications

While California generally treats domestic partners and married spouses similarly for state tax purposes, the federal government may not recognize domestic partnerships in the same way as marriages regarding taxation.

According to the IRS, domestic partners can typically not file tax returns under the "married filing jointly" or "married filing separately" categories, which married couples can utilize. This distinction can significantly affect federal tax returns, including deductions, credits, and overall tax liability issues.

Domestic partners must be aware of these distinctions and consult with a tax professional to navigate their unique tax situation effectively.

Making an Informed Decision

The decision between domestic partnership and marriage is highly personal and should be based on the couple's unique situation and what they feel most comfortable with. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Couples should take into account their emotional, financial, and legal circumstances. Factors such as shared assets, children, plans, and personal values play a role in this decision. Individuals must have open and honest discussions with their partners to determine which path aligns with their goals and values.

While personal preferences are vital, seeking professional advice can be invaluable in navigating the complexities of domestic partnership and marriage. Consulting with family law lawyers, financial experts, or psychologists can help individuals and couples sort through the nuances and make well-informed choices. Attorneys can provide insights into the legal implications of both options, financial experts can help with tax and financial planning, and psychologists can offer guidance on the emotional aspects of such a significant decision. These individuals bring a wealth of knowledge and experience, ensuring that couples have access to comprehensive information to guide their choices.

If you need legal guidance in Los Angeles, please contact Claery & Hammond, LLP at (310) 817-6904.