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Domestic Partnership

If you are in a domestic partnership, you have the same legal rights as a person who is in a marriage. Domestic partnerships are legal agreements entered by people who are in a committed relationship but are still unmarried. It is the kind of agreement that same-sex partners who wished to make their relationship official entered before the legalization of same-sex marriage in the state of California.

Some laws govern domestic partnerships in California and you need to be aware of it if you are considering entering into such an agreement. There are guidelines which the couple must follow in case they want to annul their partnership. At Los Angeles Divorce Lawyer, we have divorce lawyers who can help you understand your rights in a domestic relationship. If you would like to end your partnership, get in touch with us today.

California Laws on Domestic Partnerships

If you are in a serious relationship but do not wish to get married, a domestic partnership is the next best option available for you. It will afford you the same legal rights, benefits, and protections as well as obligations, duties, and responsibilities that are enjoyed by legally married couples. Domestic partnerships in the state of California are legal relationships, the same as marriage, which was formed in 1999 to extend the benefits and rights of marriage to couples of the same sex, who were over the age of 62. The relationship was later extended to opposite-sex partners who wanted to remain in a committed relationship but not marry.

Same-sex partners in the state of California were granted rights to marry in 2013. Before that, they only had two options if they wished to legalize their relationship, that is, alimony and domestic partnership. After the legalization of same-sex marriage in the state, domestic partnership was made open to all types of couples, including opposite-sex partners. The idea was to give everyone the freedom to choose how they wanted to legalize their relationship.

There are several reasons why most couples choose domestic partnerships in place of marriage. Most couples would like to avoid the patriarchal or religious connotations connected with marriage. Others would not want to marry again after being divorced or widowed. After the domestic partnership was made available to all types of couples, marriage relationships have decreased drastically in California. But, there are also those people who want to get married because marriage is the only brand name they recognize in relationships. For young people who do not wish to marry early, a domestic partnership would be the best option at the moment.

There are several things that a person wishing to enter into a domestic relationship must know beforehand:

There are Exceptions

The new law on domestic partnerships allows everyone to enter into such a law, but there are exceptions. These are:

  • People who have a blood relationship that will not allow them to get married in the state
  • Minors below the age of 18 and have no court order allowing them to enter into such a partnership
  • People who aren’t able to consent to a domestic relationship
  • Those who are by now in a domestic partnership or are married to a different person. Note that people who are already in a domestic relationship can still get married to each other without being required to dissolve their partnership.

The Advantages are Almost the Same

Partners of the opposite sex are granted the same legal rights as partners of the same sex after entering into a California domestic partnership. Their legal rights will include the following:

  • There will be protection for the remaining domestic partner after the death of one partner
  • Both will have obligations and full legal rights to care for a child that has been born during their partnership
  • One partner will be able to adopt children that were born by the other partner before their partnership
  • Both partners will be able to add their partners to health benefits administered by the state
  • Both have equal rights to property ownership, particularly a community property

However, domestic partnerships aren’t recognized under Federal Law. It means that partners will have a hard time doing the following:

  • Helping their partner, who is a non-citizen, to apply for residency
  • Jointly adopting children from outside the country
  • Sharing federal benefits, such as employment benefits with their partners. Note that any domestic partner who wishes to include their partner in their benefits plan might face taxation on the worth of the benefits
  • Accessing protections and rights awarded to married partners when traveling outside the state

Taxes are Complicated

Domestic partners in California will still be viewed as single people under federal laws, regardless of whether they are opposite-sex or same-sex partners. It means that even if they are allowed to file joint tax returns as a couple in the state, they will have to file tax returns separately on the federal level. The federal law still considers them as single people, and so, they will have two different files for tax returns, though they will also have rights to half of each other's income. Generally, filing the two separate returns as singles is better than filing a single joint return. It is one way in which domestic partners can evade a marriage penalty.

What happens when two individuals get married is that they are allowed to file a single tax return on their joint income. A combined income means that their tax bracket increases, which increases their tax burden. The state, however, does not consider two people in a domestic partnership as a couple and so, does not treat their income as a combined income. What this means is that any partner that receives an income-based benefit such as disability aid in the state may become disqualified if their domestic partner gets a higher income offer.

A widow who was formerly married and had rights to her departed spouse's assets can keep those benefits after entering into a domestic partnership.

Dissolving a Domestic Partnership is Uncomplicated

You do not need to go through a divorce to end a domestic partnership. If you have been in a partnership for below five years with no children, and both of you meet the property and financial obligations provided by law for domestic partners, you only need to fill in a form for terminating your domestic partnership. The State Secretary provides it. Couples who do not meet these criteria will have to go through the same legal process as married partners who are seeking a divorce. 

Either way, property acquired by the partners during their time together will be considered community/joint property. For that reason, it will be shared equally between them, unless there was a prenuptial agreement signed before the partnership. Other exceptions for domestic partnerships include gifts and personal inheritances between the partners.

Dissolution of a California Domestic Partnership

Laws regarding the termination of a local partnership in California were changed in 2005, for it to be treated the same way as marriage. But, some aspects are different between marriages and domestic partnerships. Family courts in the state have not addressed most of these aspects. For that reason, it is advisable to get in touch with a proficient divorce lawyer if you want to end your domestic partnership with no legal issues. Again, legal matters can be complicated for someone who is undergoing a divorce for the first time. The right attorney will not only explain the problematic issues to you but also ensure that your rights are safe from violation.

As mentioned above, and under Section 297.5 of California Family Laws, domestic partners have similar protections, rights, and benefits as married couples. They also enjoy the same obligations, duties, and responsibilities as those granted to married couples. What this means is that ending a domestic partnership is the same as terminating a marriage relationship. There are mainly three ways in which you can successfully end a domestic relationship in California:

  • Divorce
  • Annulment
  • Legal Separation

A skilled divorce lawyer should be able to advise you on the best option to go for and one that will benefit you the most. There are several issues that you need to bear in mind when you decide to end your domestic partnership:

Residency Requirement

The main difference between dissolving a marriage and a local partnership in California is the residency requirement for one or both partners. In marriage, California's family laws require at least one of the partners to have been a California resident for a minimum of six months before applying for a divorce. It is not the case with ending a domestic partnership, though. There isn’t any residency requirement when one partner decides to terminate their registered domestic partner. The law will not check whether or not either of the partners was residing in the state months before filing the application.

What the court will consider the most is whether or not the registration of the partnership was in the state. If that is the case, you are free to petition a family court to terminate your relationship.

Summary Dissolution

The quickest and easiest way for two domestic partners to dissolve their partnership is by filing an application for Summary Dissolution with the court. It is the same with marriage dissolution in California. As long as both partners agree on this, the dissolution will happen faster to allow each of them to rebuild their life. However, both parties have to be eligible for the summary termination of their partnership. The requirements for qualification are as follows:

  • That both of you have the same interest, which is to end your domestic partnership
  • That your domestic partnership hasn’t been registered for over five years on the day that you decided to file a notice of dissolution with the family court
  • That no children were adopted or born in the relationship. That will include those children that were adopted or born before and after the registration of your partnership
  • That neither of the partners is pregnant at the moment
  • That both partners are not owners of any buildings or land
  • That the partners do not own or rent any section of a building or land, except for their current residence. If the partners have leased property for one year or have an option to purchase the property they are currently renting, they will not qualify for the summary termination of their domestic partnership.
  • That both partners do not owe an amount exceeding $6000 in debts that were acquired after the registration of their partnership. Auto loans are not included in this
  • That both partners do not own a property worth not over $38,000 after the filing of their partnership
  • that the partners don’t have any separate property that is worth over $38, 000, excluding vehicles
  • That both parties have agreed that neither of them will seek monetary provision from the other
  • That both parties have decided that all their property will be shared, or that there will be no debts or property to be shared. The agreement has to be done in writing and signed by the partners.

All those requirements show that filing a summary termination for a domestic partnership in California is not an easy thing. The requirements are strict, and failing to meet one will disqualify the partners from the process. If you are not eligible for this, as many domestic partners in the state, you have to undergo another process, the same as divorce in marriage, to end your domestic partnership. For that reason, it is advisable to seek the help and legal counsel of a qualified divorce attorney to ensure that the process is more straightforward for you.

The Process for Dissolving a California Domestic Partnership

As mentioned above, dissolving domestic partnerships in California happens the same way as marriage divorces. For that reason, one or both partners will be required to petition a family court for a legal separation, dissolution, or annulment. If it is only one partner that wants to end the partnership, they can file the petition with the family court within their jurisdiction, and then serve their partner with a copy of the same.

Once the court has been served with the petition, the other partner will be given a month to send their response to the court regarding the request. Based on the nature of their response and the complexity of the case, both partners may have to appear in court several times. It includes the day of their trial before the judge makes the final decision. During these court appearances, several issues will be discussed, including child custody and visitation issues, child and spousal support, how assets and debts will be divided between the partners, and so much more.

You need the help and support of a qualified divorce attorney during this process too. He/she will help you make the right decisions, ensure that your rights are protected, and also offer legal advice every step of the way.

Child Support and Child Custody Issues in Dissolution of Domestic Partnership

Matters regarding child custody in the dissolution of a California domestic partnership will be handled the same way as in a divorce case, as provided under Section 297.5 of the state's Family Law. The court will, therefore, consider the child’s/children’s best interest when making its decision. Some of the issues that will be considered, according to Section 3011 of the state's Family Law include:

  • The safety, health, and general wellbeing of the child
  • Any domestic violence issues in the partnership. Both parents will be considered in this case and how best or otherwise they have been relating to the child.
  • In some cases, other close relatives will be considered too, as well as cohabitants, if there are any
  • The amount and nature of the contact that the partners have with the child
  • Any chronic and/or continued abuse of illegal drugs, alcohol or prescription medicine
  • The emotional connection between the partners and the minor
  • The adequacy and duration of the living conditions of the child
  • Each partner’s ability to take care of the child

After the court has considered all these issues, the family court will make a decision that will ensure that each partner will have enough contact time with the child and that the needs of the child will be adequately met. In most cases, joint physical and legal custody is awarded to both parents.

Spousal Support Issues

Again, the court will use the same criteria used in divorce cases to determine whether or not one partner deserves spousal support and how much support will be enough for that particular spouse. The resolution of marital support issues is according to the economic situation of both partners.

Find a Los Angeles Divorce Lawyer Near Me

The law regarding domestic partnerships in California is apparent, but only for attorneys who are familiar with various legal processes in the state. If you wish to enter into or dissolve a domestic partnership, it is advisable to get in touch with a proficient divorce lawyer. Our lawyers at the Los Angeles Divorce Lawyer will offer the best advice, explain your options, and take you through the legal process smoothly. Call us at 310-695-5212 if you are in Los Angeles, and let us help you with all the legal issues regarding domestic partnerships.

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