Domestic partnerships are similar to marriages and provide a number of legal benefits for cohabitating couples. Each state has different eligibility requirements for a couple to register as a domestic partnership and offer different legal benefits for the couple. Some states call it a civil union instead of a domestic partnership.
How to Register as Domestic Partners
To register a domestic partnership, the couple must visit the courthouse or the appropriate government office to do so. They must both appear in person, pay a fee, and file the paperwork. There may be requirements for supporting paperwork to determine eligibility, such as:
- ID to prove identity and age
- Proof that the couple have been cohabitating and share an address
- Proof that both partners are unmarried
Check your state requirements for information about the fees and eligibility requirements for domestic partnerships.
What Are the Benefits of a Domestic Partnership?
Domestic partners receive a number of the legal benefits that marriage do. Every state will provide different benefits depending on its laws, but in general, these are the common benefits of a domestic partnership.
- Visitation rights for a domestic partner in jail or hospital
- Right to bereavement leave
- Eligibility for coverage on family health insurance policies
- Right to family leave for a sick domestic partner
To demonstrate how widely domestic partner benefits can vary, we have provided 3 examples:
- In California, domestic partners receive all the protections and benefits that a married couple does. However, federal law does not recognize domestic partnerships, so a domestic partner cannot collect their deceased partner’s Social Security benefits.
- In Maryland, a domestic partnership allows limited rights such as sharing a room in a nursing home, visiting a sick domestic partner in hospital, and making funeral decisions.
- In Ann Arbor, employees may extend their employment benefits to domestic partners.
In the past, same-sex couples have sued employers for refusing to extend the rightful benefits to their domestic partner. Prior to Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015, domestic partnerships were the only way that same-sex couples could have legal rights. In light of the marriage equality ruling, many employers are discontinuing benefits for domestic partners because same-sex couples are no longer excluded from marriage. The benefits they are discontinuing are additional benefits they provide, not legally mandated ones.