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Domestic Partnership

Prior to marriages between people of the same sex becoming legal in California, such couples elected to validate and recognize their union by seeking a domestic partnership registration. Under California Family Code Section 297.5, registered domestic partners enjoy similar protections, benefits, rights, and responsibilities as married couples. The couples are also legally expected to fulfill similar obligations, legal duties and responsibilities as married couples. For instance, same-sex couples in a domestic partnership receive rights such as the use of employee sick leave for an ill partner or the partner’s child, hospital visitation, death benefits, family leave, and a variety of other laws dealing with wills.

A registered domestic partnership is a lawful union between two people. However, individuals in these relationships are not automatically married and those willing to enter into a domestic partnership can do so at their own free will. A registered domestic partnership, just like a normal marriage suggests a dedicated relationship. There are specific procedures and rules that apply when joining such a relationship and at the point of termination. If you want to enter into a new partnership or marry a domestic partner, you must end your current partnership first. In California, domestic partnerships are still legally recognized but if you travel to a state that does not recognize such type of unions, you will not have any protections as those provided in California.

If you are in a domestic partnership and want to change or dissolve it, it’s critical to understand how the state views these agreements. At San Diego Family Attorney, our experienced domestic partnership attorneys can help walk you through your legal options and determine one that will work best for your needs.

Domestic Partnership Overview

California domestic partner rights and responsibilities act of 2003 (A.B. 205) provides the same rights and responsibilities to couples of the same sex just as those provided for opposite-sex couples. A.B. 205 states that domestic partners bear each other's financial responsibility in the course of the relationship and after its termination and are therefore responsible for each other’s debts. The act allows for acknowledgment of same-sex unions from other authorities and this means viewing the union more like a “traditional” marriage. Many states provide similar benefits to domestic partners just as they do to married spouses. These include issues such as:

  • Custody,
  • Inheritance,
  • Insurance,
  • Health insurance,
  • Relocation,
  • Sick leave,
  • Bereavement and
  • Health, vision, and dental insurance

At the San Diego Family Law, we will deliberate on your domestic partnership with you; clarify your obligations and rights. At the beginning of the partnership, we will help in the preparation of the domestic partnership agreement which is a very critical document and complete your registration documents. It is important to carefully think through the domestic partnership agreement so as to draft a fully detailed document that covers all the obligations and rights of the involved parties.  Domestic partners depend on San Diego Family Law for constructive and effective advice when they are arriving at an agreement. At the point of termination, we will also assist you to ensure that all your rights are safeguarded.

Ending a Registered Domestic Partnership in California

Although registered partnerships and marriages in California are not legally similar and are recognized differently in other states, when it comes to the termination of the union, the procedures in both situations are mostly the same. Just like in normal marriages, the legal relationship between parties in a registered domestic partnership ends with the termination of the union that leaves both parties as un-partnered or single persons. All the rights, benefits, protections, legal obligations, and responsibilities that they enjoyed as registered domestic partners are taken away and they are now at liberty to register in a fresh domestic partnership or marriage in California.

Just as with spouses in divorce, registered domestic partners terminating their union may find themselves saddled with responsibilities such as child custody, child support, visitation, partner support, and division of property and debts. Nonetheless, dissolution of a registered domestic partnership does not imply that the parties not married. If you wish to end your domestic partnership, you have several options that may be life-changing, and therefore, it is always best to work with an attorney.

Notice of Termination of a Domestic Partnership

A domestic partnership can be dissolved in several ways. There is the unique method that involves a Notice of Termination of Domestic Partnership. Also, the partnership can be terminated through a divorce or an annulment. Those in a registered domestic partnership are also eligible for a legal separation. One of the simplest methods to end a registered domestic partnership in California is to file this form with the California Secretary of State.

Partners ought to meet certain requirements to be eligible for this simplified procedure:

  • Both partners must sign the Notice
  • When the notice is signed and filed, the partners are not allowed to share any children and neither partner may be pregnant
  • None of the partners may possess real estate property or any section of any building, and all rental leases must not exceed one year
  • The domestic partnership must have been in existence for less than 5 years
  • Apart from vehicle loans, the parties cannot share debts in excess of US$ 4,000
  • Apart from vehicles, the couple cannot have a joint stake of more than US$ 25,000 in property and assets
  • Following the termination of the registered domestic partnership, neither party can ask for partner support
  • The partners must be in agreement that it is in their best interest to end the registered domestic relationship and
  • It must be evident that both partners have read the pamphlet from the Secretary of State about the legal termination of a registered domestic relationship.

It is important to note that the process is almost the same as that of summary dissolution, which is a simplified process for divorce filing. It allows the interested parties to terminate their legal relationship without involving the court. Just as the process involved in the termination of marriage, A Notice of Termination of a Domestic Partnership can only be finalized after a six months period from the date the Notice was filed in court.

Petitioning for a Dissolution of a Registered Domestic Partnership

It is also possible to use a divorce to end a registered domestic relationship, after which the partners are free to get into another domestic partnership or get married. All the rights and responsibilities enjoyed by the couple on account of the domestic partnership cease to apply. A divorce is widely used to terminate legal relationship; however, there are numerous methods that a coupled can elect to use in the course of the divorce.  A divorce can facilitate the formulation of court orders that would cover several issues such as partner support, child support, child custody, and division of assets, property, and debts.

The terms of the court orders are a deliberate negotiation between the spouses that can take place either through the court system, using professional mediation or just between the couple. It is usually best for the parties to arrive at an agreement outside of the outside of the courtroom as if they are more likely to understand and follow the terms of the agreement. In a collaborative divorce or divorce mediation, working with professionals is a great way to come up with agreements that each party will be satisfied with. Professional help during mediation is a good way to come up with a divorce agreement. However, the judge must approve such agreements in order for them to become official.

For couples whose registration of the domestic partnership was done in the state of California, it is assumed that they are comfortable with the jurisdiction of Californian courts. However, irrespective of either partner’s current area of residence, the couple can divorce in California. But just like in the case of divorce among married spouses, it is difficult to formulate actionable court orders concerning matters such as partner support, child support, and division of property if one is not a resident of the state of California. 

Individuals who had the relationship registered elsewhere are required to fulfill the residency requirement that married couples must meet during divorce. This implies that one of the partners ought to have been a resident of California for at least the last six months and for at least three months in the county where the divorce is filed. For partners living in different states, it may be harder for the related court orders to be created.

Annulling a Registered Domestic Partnership in California

A registered domestic partnership can also be ended through an annulment. In this case, one of the partners is requesting the court to invalidate the domestic partnership registration and bring about a situation similar to one when the registration had not taken place. For a domestic partnership to be eligible for annulment, it should meet the requirement set out below:

  • When the domestic partner was registered, one was a minor under the age of eighteen years,
  • One partner was already in a registered domestic relationship or married at the time the registration was done,
  • One of the partners was coerced into the domestic relationship partnership, or
  • One partner was mentally or physically incapacitated at the time of registration

Child Custody and Support

Under California Family Code Section 297.5, child custody and support orders that involve domestic partnerships are treated in a similar manner like those in divorce cases. The orders are made depending on what is in the best interests of the child. According to California Family Code 3011, the courts must consider the following factors before making child custody and support orders:

  • The child’s health, safety, and welfare
  • Each parent’s earning ability and capacity to look after the child
  • Educational and healthcare costs
  • The quantity of extra-legal responsibilities outstanding by each parent, like spousal or child support from previous relationships; and
  • The emotional relationship between the child and the parents
  • History of domestic violence by any of the parents against other close relatives or against the child

Under California Family Code 3040, the courts endeavor to make orders with emphasis on the child’s continuing and frequent contact with both parents. With this, the courts always try to order joint physical and legal custody to both parents whenever possible.

If you are looking to end a same-sex domestic partnership, you must know that it is against both California and Federal law for the courts to discriminate against parents on account of sexual preferences. Those that are experiencing any prejudice in court should promptly contact San Diego Family Law for legal counsel and representation.

Spousal Support

Domestic partnerships and divorce case share a lot in common on matters of spousal support. But federal tax concerns are significantly different. Economic needs and circumstance of each parent is the critical concern when spousal support orders are being determined and it's upon the court to decide which factors carry more weight. Registered domestic partnerships are not acknowledged by the federal government, and this means that domestic partnerships are treated differently than marriages when it comes to tax issues. For a marriage, a spousal support order payment is subject to tax deduction. The IRS is not obliged to view domestic partners payment in the same way.

But with the recent United Supreme Court declaration of the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional, all marriages, whether same-sex or opposite-sex will in future be recognized under federal law. This means that all married spouse will be eligible for their marriage’s federal tax benefits. It’s worth noting that, it is not clear whether the ruling will also affect those in registered domestic partnerships.

Speak to a Family Law Attorney Today

If you and your partner decide to end your union, San Diego Family Law is here to provide compassionate guidance through the complex legal process. We help domestic partners with parenting issues such as child support, child custody, visitation rights, and the complex division of property, assets, and debts. The law on domestic partnership in California keeps changing and it is therefore imperative to retain an attorney who can help you understand your rights and responsibilities. Our attorneys will counsel you on all the necessary aspects of the registration of domestic partnership as well as the dissolution under the present legal system. We will help you understand the federal rights and benefits that apply in your case. We will protect your rights and the ability to pursue a dissolution or partnership in a domestic partnership. To learn more and get a free case evaluation, contact one of our experienced domestic partnerships attorney at 619-610-7425.

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