By Rivka Israel-Moss, Marcus Family Law Center, PLC
(originally appeared in Lavender Lens)
Q: What is “Registered Domestic Partnership” in California?
A: California finally recognized and granted rights to Registered Domestic Partners by passing the Domestic Partners Rights and Responsibilities Act of 2003. California classifies “domestic partners” as “two adults who have chosen to share one another’s lives in an intimate and committed relationship of mutual caring.” In order to obtain these rights a couple must register with the State; registering with the County is INSUFFICIENT!
To register, a couple must:
File a declaration of domestic partnership with the California Secretary of State.
Share a “common residence” (regardless of ownership);
Be at least 18 years of age; and of sound mind;
Be either of the same gender, or of different genders but over the age of 62.
The couple may not:
Be of close blood relation (California does NOT require blood tests);
Be legally married, or in another domestic partnership that hasn’t yet been terminated.
If you’ve registered in the past with another partner, in another location, you must terminate that registration.
Q: What are some benefits of registering?
A: The major ones are:
If a private employer offers health insurance to the spouses of married employees, by law they also must offer the same insurance to the partners of employees in registered partnerships.
RDP confers upon each partner the right to receive support from the other, and likewise, the duty to support the other during the partnership. Upon a dissolution of the partnership, support is determined based on the same factors as apply to spouses. RDP confers the same “community property” rights regarding wages earned and property or debt acquired during the partnership as apply to a married couple.
RDPs have the right to hospital visitation and to make medical decisions and funeral arrangements for each other in California; however, these rights exist only within California and states recognizing our laws. RDPs should take every legal precaution available to ensure these rights will apply outside of California. This can be accomplished through the use of Advanced Health Care Directives and other legal means.
RDP status confers the legal “presumption” of parentage for both partners over children born during the partnership! Please note this is a presumption only, and can be rebutted. Post dissolution, the same custody, visitation, and support rights apply for the children of the partnership as would apply to spouses. This applies only within California or states which recognize California’s RDP statutes. This area of the law is still unstable, and RDPs should take every legal precaution possible to protect their family unit and their rights over their children. These can include 2nd parent adoptions, for example.
Q: What are some things to consider before registering?
A: The Federal Government does not recognize RDPs and, therefore, many rights which are conferred by the federal law do not apply to RDPs. Creating some confusion and inconsistency, as of 2007, RDPs are required to file California State tax returns as a married person, but to must file federal tax returns as single or Head of Household. RDPs are each responsible for debts incurred during the partnership. To dissolve your partnership, you will need to go through a formal Dissolution proceeding in family court unless you qualify for a “summary dissolution”. State registration is a public record. State benefits which commonly consider a spouse’s assets may consider a new partner’s assets, rendering the recipient ineligible.
At our firm, the concerns of most of our same-sex clients usually boil down to one thing: Children! These are complicated issues, and the law regarding this issue is still unstable. Having dealt with these issues both professionally and personally, I find helping my clients protect their family units, both in and out of Court, to be very rewarding. I’ve also helped many clients with children from prior relationships pursue child support from the other parent of their children.
Rivka Israel-Moss is an attorney with the Marcus Family Law Center. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.