In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, ruling that the right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by the U.S. Constitution. Before the Obergefell decision, California was only the second U.S. state to allow same-sex marriage. In addition to having the right to marry in the state, California same-sex couples also had the option of entering into a domestic partnership. Today, the terms domestic partnership and same-sex marriage are still used in California. While both describe a legal relationship, there are some key differences between the two. California domestic partnership and same-sex marriage: Are they the same?
What is a California Domestic Partnership?
California law provides that “Domestic partners are two adults who have chosen to share one another’s lives in an intimate and committed relationship of mutual caring.” Up until 2020, California domestic partnerships were only available to same-sex couples and couples over age 62 (when one was eligible for social security benefits).
Today, a California couple can form a domestic partnership when both parties file a Declaration of Domestic Partnership with the Secretary of State and meet the following requirements:
- Neither person is married to someone else or is a member of another domestic partnership with someone else that has not been terminated, dissolved, or adjudged a nullity,
- The two persons are not related by blood in a way that would prevent them from being married to each other in this state,
- Both persons are at least 18 years of age, and
- Both persons are capable of consenting to the domestic partnership.
Under limited circumstances, an individual under 18 may be able to enter into a domestic partnership.
In many ways, California domestic partnerships are the same as California marriages. Domestic partners have the following:
- The same rights, protections, benefits, responsibilities, and are subject to the same obligations and duties under the law as are granted to and imposed upon spouses.
- The same rights as a former spouse.
- The same rights and responsibilities that are afforded to a widowed spouse.
- The same parental rights as a former or widowed spouse.
- The same rights to nondiscrimination as married couples.
- Right to pursue the equitable division of property and debt and seek financial support if the domestic partnership ends.
Differences Between Same-Sex Marriage and a Domestic Partnership
As indicated above, a California same-sex marriage has many of the same features and benefits as a domestic partnership. The primary differences between the two are the way in which the legal relationship is created and some of the rights provided to the parties.
Creating a California Domestic Partnership
- If you and your partner meet the requirements under California law, you may register a domestic partnership with the California Secretary of State.
- You may register by completing a Declaration of Domestic Partnership, having both partners’ signatures notarized, and submitting the form with the appropriate fee to the California Secretary of State.
Marrying in California
- If you want to marry in California, you and your intended spouse will have to apply for a license which will expire in 90 days.
- Your marriage ceremony must be completed by someone authorized under the law.
- For a public marriage ceremony, one witness is required to be present during your ceremony. Witnesses are not required for a confidential wedding.
Domestic partners and married couples have many of the same rights and responsibilities. However, there may be some tax benefits that are only available to married individuals. Additionally, not all states recognize domestic partnerships. Outside of California, domestic partners may not be given the same rights and protections as married individuals. These couples may also have unique considerations regarding social security benefits, pension benefits, and insurance.
If you are considering entering into a domestic partnership or getting married in California, it’s essential to know the distinctions. The best way to learn more about California domestic partnerships and same-sex marriages is by consulting with an experienced California family law attorney.
The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger are experienced California family law attorneys who can answer your questions about domestic partnership and same-sex marriage and help you plan for the future. We assist clients along California’s Northern to Southern Coast, including San Francisco, Beverly Hills, Marin, San Jose, Gold River, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Ventura/Oxnard, and surrounding communities. Call us at 415-293-8314 to schedule a private appointment or visit our website.