What is the Difference Between Marriage and Domestic Partnership in California

What is a domestic partnership?

In California, a registered domestic partnership allows a couple to receive the same rights and benefits as a married couple. The rights granted to a domestic partnership include, but are not limited to:

  • Making health care decisions under certain circumstances
  • Hospital and Jail visitation rights equal to that of blood relatives or married couples
  • Access to a family health insurance plan
  • Family Leave
  • Stepparent adoptions
  • Access to Survivor Pension benefits
  • Taking a partner’s surname
  • Community property rights, the right to partner support, and child support and parenting time after the dissolution of a domestic partnership

Federal Law Does Not Recognize Domestic Partnerships

The differences lie in how a couple is treated outside of the State of California. Federal law does not recognize a domestic partnership, so when it comes to federal laws and programs, the couple is not treated as married. Social Security is a federal program, so individual’s benefits are based on being not married. There are also some federal tax advantages and penalties that are in place for married couples. Any tax advantages that a married couple would be able to benefit from are not available to people who are entered into a domestic partnership.

While all other states recognize marriages from any state, domestic partnerships are not universally recognized across the country, so if you travel to or move to a state that doesn’t recognize a domestic partnership, you will lose rights, such as being able to make medical decisions in the case of an emergency.

Before same-sex marriages were recognized by all 50 states with the Obergefell decision, many same-sex couples would opt to register for domestic partnerships. With same-sex marriage recognized in all 50 states, couples can opt for marriage to gain all of the federal benefits.

Are there reasons to opt for a domestic partnership? Many people prefer the domestic partnership to avoid the federal marriage penalty tax. If you are considering a domestic partnership rather than a marriage, you should consult with a certified family law attorney to discuss the pros and cons of each option.


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