On Tuesday, July 31, 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a law allowing opposite-sex couples under the age of 62 to register as domestic partners.
The bill was authored by San Francisco Democratic state senator Scott Wiener. Said Wiener, “Couples should be able to protect their relationship under the law as domestic partners without being forced to marry. [This law] brings long overdue parity to same-sex and opposite-sex couples.”
In California, a domestic partnership mirrors a marriage, with all of the rights and responsibilities of a marriage. The law states, "[same-sex couples have] the same rights, protections, and benefits, and... the same responsibilities, obligations, and duties under law... [as married spouses]."
The law recognizing domestic partnerships was first enacted in 1999. Prior to that, only opposite couples were allowed to marry, preventing same-sex couples from the same protections under the law. With this law, spouses of same-sex partnerships have the right to share in their partner’s insurance, the right to inherit from their spouse and the right to make legal decisions if the other spouse is unable to do so. It also means that each spouse must provide for the other, and that if the partnership is dissolved, the same laws apply as in a dissolution of marriage.
The domestic partnership law is not recognized on the federal level. This means the federal government would not recognize the domestic partnership for federal rights and obligations afforded married couples, such sharing in social security benefits or tax benefits. There are more than 1100 federal benefits created through marriage, so not receiving those benefits can be a big deal.
The original 1999 law also allowed opposite-sex couples over the age of 62 to enter into domestic partnerships to circumvent some federal laws, such as lower social security annuities.
In 2015, the United States Supreme Court effectively recognized same-sex marriages nationally. Now, same-sex couples had a choice whether to get married or form a domestic partnership. Opposite-sex couples under the age of 62, however, did not have that opportunity. The new law allows anyone over the age of 18 who could choose to marry, can now choose a domestic partnership instead.
Eligibility for a domestic partnership is now the same as it is for a marriage license. The parties must be 18 or over (or other legal interventions apply), be of sound mind, not already married or in a current domestic partnership, and both partners are capable of consenting to the domestic partnership.
To determine whether a marriage license or a domestic partnership is in your spouse’s and your best interests, speak with a qualified family law expert.