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Rights and obligations in domestic partnerships

While marriage may be the goal many couples in California aspire to, it is not the answer for everyone. Whether for religious reasons or opposition to patriarchal connotations associated with marriage or not wanting to marry after a divorce, many couples feel secure in their partnership and do not desire to put a ring on it. Additionally, more and more younger people are opting to live together before tying the knot to see how they fare, after seeing the high divorce rates of previous generations. Whatever the reason, couples often decide to live together rather than get married. As they create their life together, it is important to know what legal obligations, if any, arise in their relationship and how to protect oneself in the event of its termination.

Domestic partnerships became legal for heterosexual couples in California at the start of this year. While they have always had the right to matrimony, as discussed previously, not all couples want to pursue that option and many prefer living together. Where previously they did not have any benefits, the new law allows them to take one another’s name, adopt previous children, add one another to state-administered health benefits, own community property and creates legal obligations with regards to biological children.

However, while understanding the rights a recognized domestic partnership grants, it is equally important to realize what it doesn’t give. For example, California partnerships are not recognized federally which means couples cannot file joint federal taxes, they cannot jointly adopt a child from another country, or access protections in another state.

Splitting up a domestic partnership can be similar to a divorce in some situations and that means property divisions will take the same route, with community property being split equally if there is no agreement in place. Couples getting their partnership recognized may want to enter into a cohabitation or prenuptial agreement to ensure their rights are protected in case the partnership comes to an end.