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Domestic Partnerships in California: What You Need to Know

In July of 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation allowing heterosexual couples to engage in domestic partnerships. Previous to this legislation, domestic partnerships were restricted to same-sex couples or heterosexual couples over the age of 62. Given this change, couples or individuals interested in an alternative to marriage should know the ins and outs of California's domestic partnership legislation, which we detail below.

A Brief History of Domestic Partnership Legislation in California

Domestic partnership legislation has a long history in California:

  1. As early as 1997, roughly two-thirds of Californians supported domestic partnerships as an alternative to marriage for same-sex couples.
  2. In 1999, California governor Gray Davis passed into law Assembly Bill 26, otherwise known as the Domestic Partnership Act.
  3. Initially, Bill 26 was supposed to extend to all adult couples in California. However, at Davis' request, Assembly Member Carole Migden adjusted the bill to target specifically same-sex couples and heterosexual couples over 62 years old.
  4. In 2003, Governor Davis passed The California Domestic Partner Rights and Responsibilities Act, which afforded domestic partnerships most of the same spousal advantages as marriages.
  5. In 2019, over a decade of adjustments to the Domestic Partnership Act culminated in Governor Newsom's decision to remove age restrictions for heterosexual couples that wished to engage in a domestic partnership.

Although California's Domestic Partnership Act was widely supported, a long-standing criticism of the legislation was that it made same-sex domestic partners "separate but equal" to heterosexual married couples. The Supreme Court's federal legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015 and Governor Newsom's adjustments to the Domestic Partnership Act in 2019 both address and resolve this criticism.

What Should I Know About the Legality of Domestic Partnerships?

If you and your partner wish to engage in a domestic partnership, there are several legal elements you should be aware of:

  1. There are still some restrictions on domestic partnerships. If two people are related by blood, under 18 years of age, unable to consent, or are already married or in a domestic partnership, they cannot be engaged in a new domestic partnership.
  2. People in domestic partnerships experience many of the same benefits as married couples. For example, couples in domestic partnerships can choose to share a last name (or create a new hyphenated last name). Domestic partners also have the same legal rights as parents should they have children and can make medical, legal, and financial decisions for each other. Domestic partners can also own community property together and receive protections should their partner die.
  3. California's domestic partnerships aren't federally recognized. Domestic partners may have trouble engaging in activities that typically require a federally recognized marriage, such as sponsoring a non-citizen for US citizenship or adopting a child from another country.
  4. California recognizes domestic partnerships and their equivalents from other states. For example, if you're engaged in a civil union in Colorado and move to California with your partner, you'll be treated like a couple in a domestic partnership.
  5. Domestic partners still file federal taxes as singles. While domestic partners can file California state taxes as a couple, they still have to file federal taxes as if they're single. For many domestic partners, this is actually beneficial since married couples are often pushed into higher tax brackets by their combined income.
  6. Domestic partners who wish to terminate the partnership may need to file for divorce. Domestic partners who’ve been together for less than five years can simply file a "termination of domestic partnership" form with the Secretary of State. However, domestic partners who’ve been together for longer than five years typically need to file for divorce to terminate their partnership.

To engage in a domestic partnership, couples must fill out an online form through the Secretary of State. This form can be mailed in or delivered to specific locations. Couples under age 62 will need to pay $33 to engage in a domestic partnership, while couples older than 62 pay only $10.

Our Team Can Help You Understand the Ins and Outs of Domestic Partnerships

If you're interested in engaging in a domestic partnership with your partner but don't quite know where to start, you're not alone. Our compassionate, experienced family law attorneys can help you understand every aspect of domestic partnerships.

Contact our law office to speak with a trusted member of our team about domestic partnerships.

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