Impact of Marriage or Domestic Partnership on Existing Wills

What Is a Domestic Partnership, and How Does It Differ from Marriage?

In recent years, the term “domestic partnership” has been widely associated with same-sex couples seeking essential legal and economic rights. However, domestic partnerships extend beyond this particular context and can take various forms, primarily in states that recognize them as an alternative to traditional marriage. In this article, we will delve into the concept of domestic partnerships, their distinctions from marriage, their legal status at both federal and state levels, what constitutes a domestic partnership, the benefits they offer, and the processes involved in registering and ending a domestic partnership.

Domestic Partnership vs. Marriage

Originally, domestic partnerships were established to provide legal and economic rights to same-sex couples when same-sex marriage was not legally recognized. Although same-sex marriage is now legal nationwide in the United States, some couples still prefer domestic partnerships due to personal preferences or unique circumstances.

Domestic Partnership According to the Federal Government

At the federal level, a domestic partnership is not officially recognized. It involves two unmarried individuals living together and sharing an intimate relationship, but they do not receive the same benefits as married couples, such as joint tax filings and other federal benefits.

Domestic Partnership According to State Government

While not recognized federally, some states have enacted laws for domestic partnerships and civil unions, extending certain benefits to registered domestic partners. States like California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey, and Oregon offer recognition to domestic partnerships. As state governments regulate these laws, the benefits provided may vary between states and even within individual counties.

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Notable Differences in Domestic Partnership Laws Across States

The lack of federal guidelines results in varying domestic partnership laws among states that recognize them. For example, California extends the same benefits, rights, and protections that married couples enjoy to all registered domestic partnerships, while Michigan does not recognize domestic partnerships at all.

What Constitutes a Domestic Partnership?

Each state determines the specific requirements for a domestic partnership. Let’s take a closer look at examples from different states.

Domestic Partnerships in California

Under California state law, a domestic partnership involves two adults in an intimate, committed relationship. They must not be married or in another domestic partnership with someone else, and both partners must be 18 years or older. The couple cannot be related by blood, and mutual consent is necessary to form the partnership.

Couples in California must register their domestic partnership through the Secretary of State to access all benefits provided by the state.

Domestic Partnerships in Colorado

Colorado refers to domestic partnerships as “civil unions.” Much like California’s laws, these unions provide domestic partners with the same rights and privileges as married couples. Partners must be at least 18 years old, live together, and cannot be in another marriage or union.

Domestic Partnerships in Texas

In Texas, domestic partnerships are not recognized at the state level. However, some cities and counties, like Bexar, El Paso, Travis, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio, do recognize them.

Domestic Partnerships in Utah

Utah currently does not recognize domestic partnerships, civil unions, or common law marriages in any form.

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Benefits of Domestic Partnership

In states that recognize domestic partnerships, couples enjoy benefits similar to those of married couples, such as health and life insurance benefits, healthcare and financial decision rights, and parental rights. Domestic partnerships also offer unique advantages, like avoiding certain marital tax consequences and simplified legal separation processes.

Registering a Domestic Partnership

The process of registering a domestic partnership varies by state. In most cases, couples must file an application with their county or city clerk and pay a small registration fee to formalize their domestic partnership. Common requirements include a completed application or affidavit, valid photo identification, proof of cohabitation, and proof of residence within the county or city.

Ending a Domestic Partnership

Once registered, a domestic partnership is a legally binding contract that requires a formal dissolution if the partners decide to separate. The process of ending a domestic partnership varies by state, and it’s essential to follow the state’s dissolution policy to avoid potential complications and expenses.


Domestic partnerships are a legal alternative to marriage, offering certain benefits to couples in states that recognize them. While the federal government does not officially recognize domestic partnerships, individual states have the authority to regulate these unions, resulting in varying laws and benefits across different regions. Before entering into a domestic partnership, it’s crucial for couples to understand the legal implications and requirements in their state of residence.


  1. Is a domestic partnership recognized by the federal government?
    • No, the federal government does not officially recognize domestic partnerships, which means domestic partners cannot access federal benefits available to married couples.
  2. Do all states recognize domestic partnerships?
    • No, domestic partnership laws vary by state, and not all states offer recognition for domestic partnerships. States like California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey, and Oregon recognize them, but others may not.
  3. What are the benefits of a domestic partnership?
    • Couples in domestic partnerships often receive similar benefits as married couples, such as health and life insurance benefits, healthcare and financial decision rights, and parental rights. Additionally, domestic partners can avoid certain marital tax consequences and may experience simplified legal separation processes.
  4. How do I register a domestic partnership?
    • To register a domestic partnership, you typically need to file an application with your county or city clerk, providing valid identification, proof of cohabitation, and proof of residence. The process may require a small registration fee.
  5. Can a domestic partnership be dissolved?
    • Yes, if a domestic partnership needs to end, it requires a formal dissolution process following the state’s specific policies for ending such unions.
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