Domestic Partnerships

So, what exactly is a domestic partnership?

The term "domestic partnership" comes up in the news with some regularity, especially whenever the issue of homosexual marriage is brought up. So what exactly is a domestic partnership? The answer varies from state to state and country to country.

In its most general form, a domestic partnership is an alternative to traditional marriage. It differs from marriage and from civil unions. That is, to be in a domestic partnership, you do not need to sign a marriage contract or a civil ceremony. 

Domestic partnerships are similar to marriages and civil unions in that they offer certain legal rights to the couple involved that they would not have as two separate people living together. Originally, in California, the term domestic partnership was used to describe a relationship that fits the criteria of marriage except involving same-sex couples.

The most common uses of domestic partnerships involve either same-sex couples or dealing with property as a single unit. Another important use is employment benefits for same-sex couples. Where married couples of heterosexual persuasion would share employment benefits, same-sex couples cannot. In some states, a domestic partnership is recognized as granting these benefits to the second party.

In some states, such as Washington, Oregon, Nevada and California, a domestic partnership has almost the same status and rights as a married couple. This is the same whether the two people in the partnership are of the same or differing sexes. While a domestic partnership is not identical to marriage, it offers many of the same rights to couples that would otherwise fall to families instead. 

In other states, such as Maine and Wisconsin, domestic partnerships are somewhere between roommates and civil unions in terms of rights — notably less than marriage. Fortunately, as time passes, domestic partnerships are being recognized in more and more states. This makes them easier to obtain.

The exact definition of a domestic partnership, and the legal rights that it grants, are different in almost every state. To find out exactly what rights your state has, a visit to a county clerk's office may be in order. 

How do you go about getting a domestic partnership officially recognized? Unfortunately, the steps to take to make a domestic partnership official are as varied as the rights granted by said partnership. First, you will have to check with a city or county clerk to see if your state even grants or recognizes domestic partnerships. If they do, then you can go ahead and ask that same clerk how to get one. In most cases, it will result in some paperwork and possibly a small ceremony. California, and some other states, requires that those in domestic partnerships sign in to a registry. 

For states that do not recognize domestic partnerships, couples may consult an attorney and draw up a series of contracts to grant rights to each other simulating such a partnership, but the process is significantly more complicated. Moreover, without the legal backing of a domestic partnership, these contracts can be ignored.