Domestic Partnership vs. Marriage in California

The Difference Between Domestic Partnership And Marriage in California

In California, a registered domestic partnership [RDP] allows each partner all the rights, benefits and obligations as partners in a valid California marriage. Married couples can transfer assets to one another without paying gift taxes or estate taxes. That is not the case with domestic partners.

 However, there are many differences between marriage and domestic partnerships, including that federal law does not recognize domestic partnerships and many other states may not recognize the relationship either.

If that’s the case, and now same-sex marriages are legal throughout the country (after the 2014 United States Supreme Court decision recognizing them), then why would anyone choose domestic partnership over marriage?

Legal Status: Although RDPs are legally treated in the same manner as marriages in the state of California, in other states and federally they are not. For example, there are over 1130 federal rights and benefits available to married couples, but they are not afforded to RDPs.

Social Status: Married couples are afforded honor, respect and privileges for their marital status, but RDPs outside of California are not. For example, other states may find RDPs to be in a “sinful” relationship and would not receive the same honor, respect and privileges of their legally married counterparts.

Emergency/Medical Decisions: Married spouses are allowed to make medical and emergency decisions for their incompetent spouses, but outside of California, RDPs may not have the same legal rights to do so.

Tax Benefits: Married spouses entitled to all federally recognized tax benefits, as well as “penalized” for so-called “marriage taxes” where individual tax payers and social security recipients are afforded more benefits. Conversely, since the federal government does not recognize RDPs, any tax benefits afforded legally married partners would not be provided to RDPs.

Spousal Support: A court order for an individual to support his/her spouse or former spouse can be recognized in any jurisdiction (local, state, and/or federal) in the country, but a court order regarding support for a current/former RDP may only be recognized in California.

Social Security Benefits: Individuals entitled to social security (usually those age 62 or over), will have their benefits decreased if they are married. Since the Social Security Administration is a federal agency, and it does not recognize RDPs, individuals in an RDP relationship will not have their social security benefits decreased.

If you are trying to decide whether to marry or enter into a domestic partner relationship, it is probably in your best interest (and your betrothed) to consult with an attorney practicing this area of law.

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