Legal Insurance

What Are the Differences Between Domestic Partnership and Marriage?

3 min read
Dec 12, 2022

Domestic partnership allows unmarried couples to claim some of the same benefits that married couples enjoy.

However, there are some differences. Not all states recognize domestic partnerships, and those that do may limit the benefits and protections available to domestic partners.

What exactly are those benefits and protections? Let’s take a closer look at the difference between domestic partnership and marriage.

What is domestic partnership?

Domestic partnership was more popular before the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in the landmark 2015 case of Obergefell v. Hodges. Prior to that, a domestic partnership was the only way for same-sex couples to claim the benefits afforded through heterosexual marriage.

The benefits of domestic partnerships may include:

  • Hospital visitation rights
  • The ability to add a partner to a health insurance plan
  • Family medical leave

Unlike a marriage, however, domestic partners need to show more proof of their committed relationship to obtain many of these benefits. Proof can take a variety of forms, such as a shared bank account. Partners can also fill out a Domestic Partnership Agreement to document the shared medical, financial, and property details of their relationship. In contrast, married couples often only need to provide a marriage certificate.

Civil union vs. domestic partnership

Civil unions are relationship statuses that are legally recognized at the state level and include some of the same benefits as marriage. Civil unions do not provide federal protections or benefits, unlike marriage. Domestic partnerships are sometimes categorized as civil unions in states and regions where both are legal.

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Marriage vs. domestic partnership: the drawbacks

There are a few major differences between domestic partnership and marriage.

Unlike married couples, domestic partners can’t legally claim each other as “family.” This means they may not be able to claim the same familial rights as married couples, including the ability to adopt, depending on the state.  

Because domestic partners aren’t recognized on a federal level, one partner can’t petition for their non-citizen partner to remain in the United States. Comparatively, a non-citizen who marries a U.S. citizen can file for permanent residence.

Finally, domestic partners may not automatically inherit each other’s assets upon death. A married person can generally claim the estate of their partner without incurring any taxes. Domestic partners may require a will to inherit their counterpart’s estate, and they’ll still be subject to any taxes that apply. If you’re considering domestic partnership, an estate planning attorney can help you understand your inheritance rights.

Where is domestic partnership legal?

Several states and districts have continued to legally recognize domestic partnerships and/or civil unions, even after Obergefell v. Hodges:

States where domestic partnerships are recognized statewide: Connecticut, Hawaii, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, Washington.

States where domestic partnerships are recognized in specific cities and/or counties: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin.

Following the federal legalization of same sex marriage, five states — Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont — converted all civil unions into marriages.

It’s important to remember that the specific benefits granted to domestic partnerships vary by jurisdiction. Some states may offer more than others.

Why domestic partnership?

Why choose domestic partnership over marriage? It all comes down to personal preference. Some committed couples simply might not want to get married, or they might not have the option. Domestic partnership offers an alternative, with some of the same benefits as marriage. Is domestic partnership right for you? It’s a question only you and your partner can answer.

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