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What is a Domestic Partnership?

Last Updated: October 17, 2023

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Key Takeaways:

  • A domestic partnership is a legally recognized unmarried couple living together in a relationship.
  • The U.S. federal government doesn't recognize domestic partnerships, but some states do.
  • Domestic partnerships offer some benefits, but don't have as many protections as marriage unions.

A domestic partnership is a legally recognized homosexual or heterosexual couple who is unmarried and living together in a relationship of mutual caring, commitment, and support. These partnerships give the couple access to some of the basic legal and economic protections and estate planning benefits provided to married couples.
The push for domestic partnerships and civil unions started in the early 1980s when gay-rights activists sought to have similar rights and benefits to those that married couples possessed due to same-sex marriage being unavailable.
However, the United States Supreme Court ruled in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex marriage was legal in June 2015. Since then, domestic partnerships have decreased but still remain an option in some states.
The U.S. federal government doesn't recognize domestic partnerships. It's up to each state to determine whether they allow them.

What are the benefits of creating a domestic partnership?

Each state that recognizes domestic partnerships has its own rules and benefits, but some common benefits include:
  • Accident, health, and life insurance coverage
  • Acting as your partner’s Medical Power of Attorney, if one hasn’t been appointed
  • Adoption benefits and parental leave
  • Bereavement and sick leave rights
  • Death benefits and inheritance rights
  • Dental and vision insurance
  • Housing rights
  • Parental rights to a domestic partner's child
  • Visitation rights in hospitals and prisons

Which states recognize domestic partnerships?

It’s important to first check if your state recognizes domestic partnerships. If it does, then see what its requirements are and which benefits you’ll be entitled to if you enter into a partnership. Each state has its own rules and guidelines.
The states that recognize domestic partnerships include:
Civil union, which come with many of the benefits afforded to married couples, are recognized in:
Many states that don’t recognize domestic partnerships at the state-level do contain cities that recognize them.

How to file for a domestic partnership?

It depends on your state, but you can typically register your domestic partnership with your local or state government or your employer if it provides benefits to domestic partners.
You'll need a witness when signing the registration document and then a notary public to verify each partner's identity using state-issued photo identification (e.g., a driver's license, passport, or military ID card) at a city or county clerk's office.
If you don't have a photo ID, you might need two forms of alternate identification, like unexpired vehicle registration, a voter registration card issued within the last three years, or a pay stub from the previous 30 days. Contact your local clerk's office to find out precisely what you need.
In addition to the form you will fill out to register with the state, you can create a Domestic Partnership Agreement (i.e., Cohabitation Agreement) to further detail the terms of your partnership.
The typical requirements for registering a domestic partnership are that the couple be:
  • In mutual agreement to be jointly responsible for each other’s basic living expenses and common welfare
  • At least 18 years old
  • Unmarried
  • Not related by blood or marriage
  • Competent to enter a contract
  • Not engaged in another domestic partnership
  • Living together and planning to remain so permanently
  • Living or employed in a city that recognizes domestic partnerships

How are domestic partnerships different from marriage?

There are some important differences between domestic partnerships and marriage. One of the most significant differences is that every state in the U.S. recognizes marriage, while only a handful of states recognize domestic partnerships.
Many people who form domestic partnerships do so to gain access to just some of the advantages available to married couples. This is because marriage comes with more benefits and protections. Even if you're a resident of one of the states that recognize domestic partnerships, there are still more legal and financial advantages to marriage.
For example, married couples usually automatically inherit at least some of each other's assets and aren't taxed on them below a certain threshold. Domestic partners need to leave assets to each other through a Last Will and will be taxed on them.
Also, a non-citizen of the U.S. can use marriage to help become a permanent resident. This option is unavailable to domestic partners because immigration laws don’t recognize domestic partnerships.

How is a domestic partnership different from a common law marriage?

The main difference between domestic partnerships and common law marriages is that the federal government recognizes common law marriages.
Not all states allow common law marriages, but if one is created, the federal government will treat it like a typical marriage even if the couple moves to a state that doesn't recognize them.
With this recognition comes certain federal tax and social security rights and obligations for common law couples that are available to married couples, but not to domestic partners.

Does a domestic partnership affect taxes?

Filing taxes as a domestic partner can be a little confusing compared to being married because there’s a difference between federal and state recognition of domestic partnerships. For example, some state’s tax laws allow domestic partners to jointly file their taxes. However, they’ll need to file their federal taxes separately.
Arizona, Idaho, Louisiana, Texas and Wisconsin require domestic partners to file their state-taxes separately. However, this helps them to avoid the 'marriage tax penalty' that comes with combining incomes and getting taxed in a higher bracket.
If the domestic partners have a child, only one of the parents can claim the child as a dependent when doing their taxes. However, if the child is adopted, the two parents can usually divide the adoption credit given for expenses connected to the adoption as long as they don’t claim the same expenses.
Because domestic partners aren't considered spouses for federal tax purposes, they're able to itemize or claim the standard deductions when doing their taxes, even if their partner does the same. This is something that married couples are prohibited from doing.
If the partners don't split their expenses evenly, the partner paying the majority of the expenses may be subjected to a gift tax. Any expenses they pay that exceed the $15,000 threshold are taxed.

Does a domestic partnership affect social security benefits?

Because Social Security is a federal government program and domestic partnerships aren’t recognized federally, a domestic partnership doesn’t affect social security benefits.

How do you dissolve a domestic partnership?

The process of dissolving a domestic partnership varies between states. Some require the domestic partners to file a request for termination with the court, while others require the partners to file a Notice of Termination with the Secretary of State.
Dissolving a domestic partnership involves dividing up assets, awarding custody of children, and sorting out any alimony or child support payments.
You'll also need to inform your benefit providers that the domestic partnership is ending if any of the benefits result from the arrangement.
While hiring an attorney during this period is not a legal requirement, it’s always a good idea to seek legal advice from a professional so you’re fully aware of your rights and obligations.

How to dissolve a domestic partnership by state

Here's how to dissolve a domestic partnership state:
State How to dissolve a domestic partnership

File a notice of Termination of Domestic Partnership with the California Secretary of State or a Petition for Dissolution of Domestic Partnership with a California Superior Court.

District of Columbia (D.C.)

File for termination in the DC Vital Records office. There’s a six-month waiting period.


File a Declaration of Termination of Reciprocal Beneficiary Relationship with the Hawaii Department of Health.


File a Notice of Termination with the Maine CDC vital records office


If the partnership was entered within the last five years, the partners need to file a termination form with the Secretary of State. If the partnership is older than five years old, the partners need to file a termination proceeding with the family court.

New Jersey

The partners need to file a request for termination with the Superior Court of the State of New Jersey.


File a Dissolution of Partnership form with the family court. The exact requirements depend on whether the partners have children.


The domestic partners need to file a dissolution action in Superior Court.


File a Notice of Termination with the county clerk who issued the declaration of domestic partnership.