2024 Domestic Partnership vs. Marriage in California – What Is the Difference?

Many people have heard of terms like domestic partnership and marriage but struggle with understanding them. However, for many Californians, these avenues provide ways for more and more couples to share their futures together. With the federal legalization of same-sex marriages in 2015, California continued to be an ally for the LGBTQ+ community as well as for opposite-sex couples who wish to have their relationships legally recognized through domestic partnerships. While marriage is still the more common path, understanding the differences between the alternatives can help you and your partner seek legal recognition of your relationship while benefiting from it.

Domestic partnerships were originally created to help those who were in same-sex relationships have similar benefits to those in marriage. This is still a preferred method for many couples, despite the legal recognition of same-sex marriage. However, there are several differences between these two legal institutions under family law.

Legal Definition of Domestic Partnerships

For couples who wish to take their relationship to the next step without using a marital path, domestic partnerships could be a viable option. Under the law, they are defined as “two adults who have chosen to share one another’s lives in an intimate and committed relationship of mutual caring.” Traditionally reserved for same-sex couples, domestic partnerships were allowed for opposite-sex couples in 2020 to be able to enjoy some of the same rights and privileges as married couples.

To be in an official domestic partnership, the couple must meet certain criteria:

  • Both parties must share a common residence.
  • They must agree to assist each other with living expenses.
  • Neither party may already be in a marriage or other domestic partnership.
  • They must not be blood relatives.
  • Both parties must be at least 18 years of age.
  • There must be a filing of a Declaration of Domestic Partnership.

Rights and Benefits of Domestic Partnership

Both marriage and domestic partnerships allow couples to receive many benefits, but they differ in the legal rights provided. Marriages create a legal civil contract between two individuals, whereas a domestic partnership is simply the recognition that a couple shares a domestic life together. However, domestic partnerships are still a great way to share a life with someone you love and have similar benefits to marriage.

Benefits that couples can enjoy in a domestic partnership include:

  • Void of state marriage tax penalties
  • The right to co-adopt
  • Rights to legal guardianship and decision-making for children
  • Leave for bereavement
  • Allowable visitation for applicable circumstances
  • The ability to use time off under the Family Leave Act to care for their partner while sick or injured
  • The right to inheritance
  • May qualify partners for family insurance

Differences Between Marriage and Domestic Partnerships

While marriage provides all the benefits of a domestic partnership, and both recognize similar rights and responsibilities, there are differences in the legal processes for both. Some of the key differences include:

  • Married couples can file taxes jointly and share benefits.
  • In the case of a divorce, a married couple can have their property divided
  • Marriages allow for immigration sponsorship between partners.
  • Marriages entitle spouses to their partner’s social security and pension benefits.
  • Marriages allow couples to transfer money between both spouses tax-free.

While these differences are important, and are only a small portion of the differences between the two, the similarities between them highlight the importance of taking a step towards one or the other. In these legal partnerships, there are obligations between partners that must be met. If the partners choose to dissolve either a marriage or domestic partnership, they are subject to the same division of assets, child custody, and spousal support.

FAQs About California Domestic Partnership vs Marriage 2024

Is a Domestic Partnership the Same as Marriage in California?

While they share similar rights and responsibilities, there are a few legal differences. However, they both signify the legal partnership between two individuals through either domesticity or the contractual recognition of a marriage. Both are still subject to the division of assets, child support, and spousal support should they dissolve. Speaking with an experienced family law attorney can help you determine which choice is right for you and your partner.

Is Domestic Partnership Different From Marriage?

While domestic partnerships share similarities with marriages, there are several key differences:

  • Domestic partnerships do not allow couples to file taxes jointly.
  • They are not entitled to a fair property division.
  • They may not sponsor their partner in matters concerning immigration status.
  • They do not entitle partners to social security or pension benefits.
  • They are not able to transfer money between each other without taxable considerations.

Is Domestic Partnership the Same as Being Married for Taxes?

Domestic partnerships are not the same as marriages in terms of taxes. Couples in a domestic partnership may not file their federal taxes jointly, and they cannot claim any form of married status. In addition, they may not use the head of household status, and if they have a child, only one parent is able to claim the child as a dependent, not both.

What Determines a Domestic Partnership in California?

One key factor in recognizing domestic partnerships is the state in which one lives. Because the federal government does not recognize them, states have the flexibility to create their own rules and regulations. In California, domestic partners must petition the court and register as such. In addition, they must meet the eligibility requirements to qualify.

California Family Law Attorney

Understanding the similarities and differences between a marriage and a domestic partnership can help couples, no matter what their makeup, progress their relationship and create a new sense of connection between them. While marriage and domestic partnership are not completely equal under the law, they each provide benefits to couples that allow them to share new experiences in their relationships. If you have questions about domestic partnerships or marriages, and need guidance through the legal process for either, contact the family law team at the Najera Law Group, P.C. Let us help you celebrate your love. Our experienced attorney is ready to help.



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