You may have heard of a domestic partnership and wondered how it differs from a marriage in the United States. These are simply two ways for couples to establish legal recognition of their relationship. They differ significantly in terms of legal rights, obligations, requirements, and even what states recognize domestic partnerships at all. Another important note on this topic is that many states have removed the option for domestic partnership after legalizing marriage in the state. (Why keep domestic partnerships around if everyone is allowed to get married?!)
This blog will dig into the key differences between domestic partnership and marriage, including the legal definition, requirements, benefits, and drawbacks.
What is a Domestic Partnership?
A domestic partnership is a legally-recognized relationship that grants some of the same rights and benefits as marriage. Domestic partnerships can generally be both opposite-sex and same-sex couples. Domestic partnerships are recognized in several states and municipalities in the United States, but not all states. The legal definition of domestic partnership varies by jurisdiction, but generally, it refers to a committed, romantic relationship between two people who live together and share domestic responsibilities.
Requirements for a Domestic Partnership
The requirements for a domestic partnership can vary depending on the jurisdiction. In many cases, couples must meet the following criteria to qualify for a domestic partnership:
- Both partners must be of the proper age
- Both partners must be unmarried and not in another domestic partnership with someone else
- Both partners must both live in a state where the domestic partnership is allowed
- Both partners must share a committed, romantic relationship
- Both partners must not be related by blood
Again, these requirements vary greatly from state to state. For example, to register for a domestic partnership in New Jersey, both parties must be at least 62 years old! On the other hand, the age requirement for a domestic partnership in the District of Columbia and Seattle, Washington, is 18 years old.
Another example is California, where there is no state residency requirement needed for registering as a domestic partnership.
The bottom line: you’ll need to check with your specific state to ensure you have all the requisite requirements for creating a domestic partnership.
Benefits of a Domestic Partnership
Domestic partnerships grant some of the same legal rights and benefits as marriage, such as:
- Health insurance benefits
- Family and medical leave
- Inheritance rights
- Property rights
- Death benefits
However, the specific benefits of domestic partnerships vary by jurisdiction, and not all states or municipalities recognize domestic partnerships. For example, in Nevada, health insurance providers are not required to allow domestic partners to receive coverage. In contrast, in New Jersey, same-sex domestic partners are required to receive coverage (with some caveats). As you can see, the benefits of a domestic partnership can be different from one state to the next.
Drawbacks of a Domestic Partnership
Although domestic partnerships offer some of the same benefits as marriage, they also have some drawbacks. For example, some drawbacks include:
- Domestic partnerships are not recognized in all jurisdictions
- Domestic partnerships do not always offer the same level of legal protection as marriage
- Domestic partnerships may be dissolved more easily than marriages
- People in domestic partnerships cannot get a prenup
What is Marriage?
Marriage is a legal unity between two individuals that establishes rights and obligations between them. (And it’s also about LOVE, of course!). Marriage is recognized in all states in the United States and in most countries worldwide.
Requirements for Marriage
Generally, to get married in the U.S., couples must meet the following requirements:
- Both partners must be of legal age
- Both partners must be unmarried
- Both partners must have the capacity to consent to marriage
- Both partners must not be closely related by blood
In addition, couples must obtain a marriage license and have a ceremony to solemnize the marriage. Some marriage requirements can vary slightly from state to state, but these are the generally accepted requirements across virtually all states.
Benefits of Marriage
Why get married over a domestic partnership? Well, marriage offers numerous legal rights and benefits, such as:
- Joint tax filing
- Inheritance rights
- Property rights
- Health insurance benefits
- Social Security benefits
- Immigration benefits
In addition, marriage offers a level of legal protection that is not available with domestic partnerships. For example, getting a divorce offers more legal protections to certain parties that may not be offered to parties in a domestic partnership. However, it’s important to understand that some of the benefits of domestic partnerships and marriages do overlap. But, in general, marriage has more protections overall.
Drawbacks of Marriage
Although marriage offers many benefits, it also has some drawbacks. For example:
- Marriage can be expensive (weddings ain’t cheap, guys!)
- Divorce can be costly and time-consuming
- Marriage may not be the best option for couples who prefer more flexibility in their relationship
- For older folks, they may not want to get married for certain reasons because marriage will create a ripple effect into other areas, such as losing social security benefits, having estate plan issues, losing eligibility for Medicaid, and more.
Differences Between Domestic Partnership and Marriage
Here are some of the key differences between domestic partnership and marriage:
Marriage is recognized in all states in the United States and in most countries worldwide, while domestic partnerships are only recognized in some states and municipalities. And throughout the states that do recognize domestic partnerships, there are still variations across the states as to what is recognized under a domestic partnership.
The requirements for marriage are generally more rigid than those for domestic partnerships. For example, couples must obtain a marriage license and have a ceremony to solemnize the marriage, while domestic partnerships may only require registration with the appropriate government agency.
Legal Rights and Benefits
Marriage generally offers more legal rights and benefits than domestic partnerships, including joint tax filing, Social Security benefits, and immigration benefits.
Ending a domestic partnership is generally less complex and less expensive than getting a divorce. In some cases, domestic partnerships can be dissolved by simply terminating the registration with the government agency, while divorce involves court proceedings, legal fees, and potentially long-term financial obligations.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about domestic partnerships and marriage
Do you have lingering questions about domestic partnerships and how they compare to marriages? Keep reading to see some commonly asked questions below!
Q: Can same-sex couples enter into domestic partnerships?
A: Yes, same-sex couples are eligible to enter into domestic partnerships in jurisdictions that recognize them.
Q: Can opposite-sex couples enter into domestic partnerships?
A: Depends on the state. Many states do allow opposite-sex couples to enter into domestic partnerships.
Q: Do domestic partners have inheritance rights?
A: In most states, domestic partners have some inheritance rights, but the specific laws vary by jurisdiction.
Q: Can domestic partners receive Social Security benefits?
A: In some cases, domestic partners may be eligible for Social Security benefits if they meet certain criteria, such as having been in a committed relationship for a certain length of time.
Q: Can domestic partnerships be converted to marriages?
A: In some states, domestic partnerships can be converted to marriages by obtaining a marriage license and having a ceremony to solemnize the marriage. The specific requirements vary by jurisdiction.
While both domestic partnership and marriage offer legal recognition of committed relationships, they differ significantly in terms of legal rights, requirements, and benefits. Couples should carefully consider their individual needs, goals, and state laws when deciding which option is best for them.
Nicole Sheehey is the Head of Legal Content at HelloPrenup, and an Illinois licensed attorney. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to prenuptial agreements. Nicole has Juris Doctor from John Marshall Law School. She has a deep understanding of the legal and financial implications of prenuptial agreements, and enjoys writing and collaborating with other attorneys on the nuances of the law. Nicole is passionate about helping couples locate the information they need when it comes to prenuptial agreements. You can reach Nicole here: [email protected]