The California domestic partnership

This legal relationship is treated almost like a marriage.

Well before the U.S. Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal nationwide in 2015 and even before the on-again, off-again legality of same-sex marriage under state law that began in 2006, the state of California allowed same-sex couples to enter into registered domestic partnerships. Domestic partnerships in California remain legal and available even the right to same-sex marriage has been settled.

Basic principles

California statute defines domestic partners as "two adults who have chosen to share one another's lives in an intimate and committed relationship of mutual caring." The state allows domestic partnerships to either same-sex couples or to opposite-sex couples if at least one of them is more than 62 years old.

Establishment and requirements

A domestic partnership is established when the parties file a signed and notarized Declaration of Domestic Partnership with the Secretary of State's office and meet these requirements:

  • Neither partner may be married or in another domestic partnership with a different person.
  • The partners may not be related by blood in the same way state law prevents close relatives to marry.
  • They are both at least 18, with narrow exception.
  • Each must be capable of consenting to entering the domestic partnership.

The Secretary of State registers a filed declaration by entering it into a public registry. A partnership may also be filed as a confidential domestic partnership record of which is not publicly available except pursuant to a valid court order.

Rights and responsibilities

With very narrow exception, state law is written very broadly and inclusively to grant current, former and surviving domestic partners the same rights, privileges, protections and responsibilities as spouses, including those concerning:

  • Survivorship and inheritance
  • Spousal support
  • Children of either of them, including child support and custody matters
  • Nondiscrimination
  • Property ownership
  • Debt liability
  • Name-change election

A person in a domestic partnership may not file another declaration or enter into a marriage with someone different than a current domestic partner until his or her current domestic partnership is legally dissolved or nullified. Legal domestic partners may marry each other without first dissolving the partnership.

Termination

The parties may terminate a domestic partnership by jointly filing a notice of termination with the Secretary of State so long as a number of conditions are met, including that there are no children of the relationship, the partnership is not more than five years of duration, the parties have a relatively small amount of debt and property, they waive the right to support and they agree about how to split assets and debts.

If they do not dissolve the partnership by filing the notice, the partnership may be dissolved or nullified, or the parties may get a legal separation, by filing an appropriate petition in state court and the proceedings are handled just like they would be for a marriage.

A domestic partnership also ends if one partner dies.

This is a brief introduction to a complex area of California law. Anyone with questions about a domestic partnership should seek legal advice from an experienced lawyer.

The attorneys at The Law Office of Heather Cullen, A Professional Corporation, with offices in Temecula and Riverside provide advice and representation about domestic partnerships, including their termination.