California passed a new law that legalizes heterosexual couples to file for domestic partnerships. This law allows all couples in the state the option to choose between either a marriage or a domestic partnership option to declare their commitment to each other and to gain state rights that are available to couples.
Prior to the enactment of this law, only same-sex couples and heterosexual couples over 62 years of age were legally permitted to enter into a domestic partnership.
Broad Legal Definition of Domestic Partnerships
A domestic partnership is legally defined as a union between two individuals that grants similar benefits and legal protections that are also offered by marriage. Each state has the power to determine the rights granted to couples in a domestic partnership. In some states, domestic partnerships and marriages are almost identical, while in others certain privileges are only granted to legally married couples.
Domestic partnerships can also be called civil unions. However, this can be misleading because each state has its own meaning of the terms and has its own applicable rules.
Unlike legal marriages, there is no need for a lengthy divorce process at the end of a domestic partnership. Instead, couples in a domestic partnership can simply decide to separate without jumping through legal hoops. All they typically need to do is to complete and file a form that shows they intend to terminate their partnership.
California Domestic Partnerships Defined
California enacted a law in 2000 to allow domestic partnerships. At the time, same-sex marriages were illegal. The purpose of the law was to allow same-sex couples the option to create a long-term partnership in the state. The law provided an alternative to marriage, while still giving same-sex couples almost identical legal rights as heterosexual married couples.
Rights provided to domestic partners include:
- Disability insurance coverage
- Up to 12 weeks of leave under the California Family Rights Act
- Use of paid leave and sick time to take care of family members
- Tax benefits for spouses filing separately or jointly
- End of life care and family access at hospitals
- Parental rights and responsibilities regarding the children
- State healthcare coverage as family members
The New California Law
Although the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, the ruling did not impact state domestic partnership laws. This meant that same-sex couples had the right to both a domestic partnership and a marriage in the state. However, heterosexual couples did not have the same rights. They could only get married in California.
In July 2019, Gov. Newsom signed into law a new bill, Senate Bill 30, that gave couples the right to register as a domestic partnership regardless of their sexual orientation. This bill became effective January 1, 2020, making it legal for any couple, regardless of sexual orientation, to create a domestic partnership as long as they qualify under other state laws.
Although domestic partnerships are legal in California, they are not recognized by the federal government. As such, it a safer route for some couples, whether same-sex or heterosexual, to legally get married in order to be guaranteed certain rights under the law.
Call an Experienced Central Valley Domestic Partnership Attorney
For more information about domestic partnerships or to schedule a complimentary consultation with Central Valley domestic partnership attorney Gurjit Srai, please call (209) 323-5558, or complete our online form.