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New Laws for 2021: Domestic Partnership’s Expansion in California

The new year has brought a number of changes to the legal state of play in California and throughout the country. In the legal and political spheres, accessibility and equality are becoming more significant priorities, and the laws are shifting to take this into account.

For example, in California, domestic partnership is now an option for all couples, regardless of gender or age. Previously, this partnership was reserved for same-sex couples. It offers a suite of benefits that are different from marriage. Opening this status to people of all genders is an essential step to expanding civil rights in a fair and even-handed manner. But what rights does a domestic partnership offer?

What Is Domestic Partnership

The legal relationship known as “domestic partnership” has a relatively short history in California. It was first recognized in the state in 1999 as a way for same-sex partners to access the same rights as heterosexual couples. At the time, this legal status was intended to appease gay marriage advocates while reserving matrimony for heterosexual partners.

Domestic partnerships offered many benefits that had previously been inaccessible for same-sex partners, such as:

  • The ability to visit and make medical decisions for a hospitalized partner
  • Access to insurance plans
  • Coverage under the state community property laws
  • Parental rights and responsibilities similar to marriage
  • Inheritance rights in case of one partner’s passing
  • The right and responsibility to file taxes as partners

As history can demonstrate, advocates in the LGBTQ community did not rest after 1999. In 2013, California legally recognized gay marriage legal throughout the state. Two years later, the US Supreme Court declared gay marriage to be legal throughout the country. However, domestic partnerships were still reserved for same-sex partners.

Multiple groups campaigned for this to change. There are several differences between being married and becoming domestic partners, and all couples deserve to choose which of these arrangements fit their lives more effectively.

The Differences Between Partnership and Marriage

California’s original law regarding domestic partners was intended to mimic marriage in many ways, to act as a type of “separate but equal” union. However, there are still some significant differences between these two types of partnerships’ rights and responsibilities.

First and foremost, domestic partnerships are not recognized by every state nor by the federal government. That means that registered domestic partners are not considered legally connected in the same way as married couples if they leave their home state. This has several implications, but the most important for most people is its effect on their tax bill.

Why? Because no unmarried couples are permitted to file their federal taxes jointly, even if they are registered partners. That can lead to a significantly higher tax bill each year. This is particularly true of couples who have unequal incomes.

Source: Tax Foundation

For example, childless married couples in which one partner stays at home and the other earns $100,000 yearly can save up to 7% of their total combined income on their tax bill. This is known as the “marriage benefit.” Domestic partners, on the other hand, see no such savings in the case of unequal income.

On the other hand, this can occasionally lead to tax benefits, as well. Couples who earn approximately equal incomes can fall victim to the so-called “marriage penalty. High-income couples can pay anywhere from 3% to 6% more in federal taxes if they earn similar amounts. In this case, domestic partners actually save money compared to their married peers.

The lack of federal recognition also affects domestic partners in other matters. This type of relationship does not confer:

  • Social Security benefits
  • Veteran spousal benefits
  • Pension benefits

Finally, there are cultural and religious connotations to both matrimony and domestic partnerships. Outside of any legal consideration, there are different social implications for calling someone your “partner” as opposed to your “husband,” “wife,” or “spouse.” Some people may prefer a marriage because of the titles it conveys, while others would prefer to avoid it to make a social statement.

Whether these considerations are important will vary from couple to couple. Everyone has their own priorities, and no two people’s financial situations will be identical. However, all Californians should, and now do, have the right to choose the suite of rights and responsibilities they prefer.

Which Is Best For You?

There’s no one right answer for the question of whether marriage is better than a domestic partnership. Every couple’s situation will be different, financially and emotionally. However, on a purely pragmatic level, there are three considerations that can help you choose the type of union that will work best for you.

Does your relationship have an income disparity? If you have no great attachment to either title, then you may as well choose the option that makes your taxes less expensive. The greater your income disparity, the more it makes sense to choose matrimony and vice versa.

Will Social Security or veteran benefits be necessary to either person? If having VA educational benefits or Social Security payments will help you or your partner, matrimony may still be the right choice.

Do you have an ideological preference for or against either title? Finally, some people dislike the institution of marriage, while others feel a spiritual connection to matrimony. Either way, the label that makes you and your partner feel comfortable is most likely the right option for you.

Take the Right Next Step

If you’ve decided to have your relationship legally recognized, you now have more options available than ever before. Regardless of your partner’s gender, you can choose how and whether the state and the federal government will recognize your relationship.

If you’re still not sure about which type of union is your best choice for you, don’t hesitate to reach out for assistance. Deciding to get married is an exciting time; you deserve to enjoy the process without worrying about legal concerns. A qualified prenuptial attorney can help you understand your options and write any additional agreements you need to feel comfortable to commit to your partner.