How Do I Make A Domestic Partnership?

If you want to create a bond with your partner without walking down the aisle, it's simple enough to do. While it might seem like partners who aren't married get left out in the cold when it comes to tax breaks and legal protections, there are many states where domestic partners are every bit as protected as their married counterparts. That's great news for couples who don't believe in marriage, don't want to take the leap, or simply want to create a less traditional type of lasting commitment. If you're ready to start the rest of your life with the person you love, here's how to make sure both your rights are protected in the process. The information provided here is for general information only and should not be used as legal advice.

How Do I Make A Domestic Partnership?

  1. Check State Laws. Before you decide to make things official, you always want to make sure that your state actually recognizes and extends benefits to domestic partners. Otherwise, you'll be going through a lot of paperwork without much of a result. While many workplaces offer domestic partnership benefits and there are federal laws protecting unmarried partners, it helps to live in an area where you and your partner are recognized as equals under the law whether or not you ever choose to formally marry.
  2. Sign The Paperwork. As with marriage, deciding to formalize your living situation will require filling out a fair amount of paperwork. Don't be intimidated: As long as you and your partner do this together, with the help of both your lawyers, you won't run the risk of submitting inaccurate or omitted information to your county clerk. During this time, you'll also want to take other factors into account, such as options for second parent adoption and medical or financial power of attorney documents. Remember, the more paperwork you fill out, the more you and your family will be protected no matter what happens.
  3. Register. Once you're finished filling out the paperwork, you're ready to file it with your local Secretary of State Office. You'll also be able to ask the county clerk any questions you might have about the process. Since every state is different on the matter of partnerships, it's always best to come prepared with a list of questions.
  4. Don't Forget To Keep Your Lawyer Informed. After you've filed, it's still in your best interests to keep your lawyers in the loop. Even if your state offers great protections for domestic partners, your workplace may not. You don't want to make the mistake of leaving your lawyer in the dark should you need to file suit or even clarify a contract at any time. Remember, your lawyer is here to make sure your whole family stays protected under the law.

What Happens If You Don't Make It Official?

If you decide for whatever reason not to register your domestic partnership with the state or county, you should still take the time to speak to both your lawyers about filling out documents that will help you get the most out of your partnership. For instance, even if you're not married or registered as partners, you'll want your partner to be able to visit you in the hospital and potentially make decisions about your well-being should you be unable to do so for yourself. This requires a power of attorney. It's also important to set up protections for your children if you have any.

Domestic Partnership Laws By State

State Laws Pertaining To Domestic Partnerships Registries
Alabama No specific rights listed N/A
Alaska No specific rights listed N/A
Arizona Phoenix and Tucson recognize and extend benefits to domestic partnerships and civil unions Phoenix, Tucson
Arkansas No specific rights listed N/A
California Alameda County, Berkeley, Laguna Beach, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, Marin County, Oakland, Petaluma, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Francisco County, San Mateo County, Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz County, Ventura County, West Hollywood extend rights to domestic partners Arcata, Berkeley, Cathedral City, Davis, Laguna Beach, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, Oakland, Palo Alto, Sacramento, San Francisco, Santa Barbara County, and West Hollywood
Colorado Denver extends benefits to domestic partners Denver
Connecticut Statewide extension of benefits to domestic partners Hartford
Delaware No specific rights listed N/A
Florida Broward County and Palm Beach County extend benefits Broward County and Palm Beach County
Georgia Atlanta extends benefits Atlanta
Hawaii Statewide extension of benefits to domestic partners Statewide
Idaho No specific rights listed N/A
Illinois Chicago and Cook County Oak Park
Indiana Bloomington extends benefits to domestic partners N/A
Iowa Iowa City extends benefits to domestic partners Iowa City
Kansas No specific rights listed N/A
Kentucky No specific rights listed N/A
Louisiana New Orleans extends benefits to domestic partners N/A
Maine Portland extends benefits to domestic partners Portland
Maryland Baltimore and Takoma Park extend benefits to domestic partners N/A
Massachusetts Boston, Brewster, Brookline, Nantucket, Provincetown, and Springfield extend benefits to domestic partners Boston, Brewster, Brookline, Cambridge, Nantucket, and Northampton
Michigan Kalamazoo, Washtenaw County, and Wayne County extend benefits to domestic partners Ann Arbor and East Lansing
Minnesota Minneapolis extends benefits to domestic partners Minneapolis
Mississippi No specific rights listed N/A
Missouri St. Louis extends benefits to domestic partners St. Louis
Montana No specific rights listed N/A
Nebraska No specific rights listed N/A
Nevada No specific rights listed N/A
New Hampshire No specific rights listed N/A
New Jersey Statewide extension of benefits Statewide
New Mexico Albuquerque extends benefits to domestic partners N/A
New York Brighton, Eastchester, Ithaca, New York City, Rochester, and Westchester County extend benefits Albany, Ithaca, New York City, and Rochester
North Carolina Chapel Hill extends benefits to domestic partners Carrboro
North Dakota No specific rights listed N/A
Ohio No specific rights listed N/A
Oklahoma No specific rights listed N/A
Oregon Statewide extension of benefits Ashland
Pennsylvania Philadelphia extends benefits to domestic partners N/A
Rhode Island No specific rights listed N/A
South Carolina No specific rights listed N/A
South Dakota No specific rights listed N/A
Tennessee No specific rights listed N/A
Texas Travis County extends benefits to domestic partners N/A
Utah No specific rights listed N/A
Vermont Statewide extension of benefits Statewide
Virginia Alexandria extends benefits to domestic partners N/A
Washington Statewide extension of benefits Lacey, Seattle
West Virginia No specific rights listed N/A
Wisconsin Milwaukee and Madison extend benefits to domestic partners Milwaukee and Madison
Wyoming No specific rights listed N/A

What If Something Changes?

If you and your partner break up or something changes within the relationship, you'll be able to dissolve your partnership at the same registry where you filed your paperwork. This process will be far less expensive and drawn-out than divorce, but you'll still want to keep your lawyer involved just to make sure you don't lose out on your fair share of any joint property, earnings, or investments.

Corporations With Domestic Partner Benefits

Fortunately, many Fortune 500 companies currently offer benefits to domestic partners regardless of gender. These include:

  • Avon Products, New York, N.Y., as of 1998
  • Bank of America, San Francisco, C.A., as of 1998
  • Costco Wholesale, Issaquah, W.A., as of 1998
  • Hewlett Packard, Palo Alto, C.A., as of 1997
  • Mattel, El Segundo, C.A., as of 1998
  • Merrill Lynch, New York, N.Y., as of 1999
  • Pacific Gas and Electric (PGE), San Francisco, C.A., as of 1997
  • Seagate Technology, Inc., Scotts Valley, C.A., as of 1998
  • Xerox Corp., Stamford, C.T., as of 1998
  • Wells Fargo, San Francisco, C.A., as of 1998

In Depth

Marriage is a beautiful thing. But it's not the only way to create a long-lasting commitment with another person or to show them you love them. It's not even the only way to start a family. If you're committed to your partner and you want to make things official without tying the knot, there are ways to do it that won't leave you legally unprotected.

Whether you don't believe in the idea of marriage or you don't like the idea of signing on to someone else's debts for the rest of your life, creating a domestic partnership with another person can be a beautiful way to create a testament to your love. In many states, domestic partnerships can be every bit as secure as marriages. Even celebrities have held out on marriage and built long-lasting domestic partnerships with their loved ones.

When Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard first got together, they quickly fell in love, but didn't want to get married until marriage was an option for everyone in America. Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher felt the same way. When the equal marriage ruling made waves in 2013, the couples started to make plans to wed. However, not everyone is waiting around for the day they can walk down the aisle. A lot of people simply want the legal protections of marriage without the label.

When Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard first got together, they quickly fell in love, but didn't want to get married until marriage was an option for everyone in America.

If this sounds like you, you can't wait around letting your rights slip down the drain. Be sure to read our quick guide on getting legally protected with a domestic partnership agreement, found right on this page. Simply scroll beneath this video to connect with a lawyer who will help protect your rights. Ready to make your domestic partnership work for you? Here's how to get started.

#1: Know Your State's Laws. While domestic partnerships are totally valid and legally recognized federally, you'll still have to have a grasp on your State's laws to make sure you're getting all the protections you require. For instance, if you live in a state or work for a company that's rolling back protections for domestic partners, you'll want to know about it first. You'll also want to get a lot of other paperwork out of the way, such as healthcare power of attorney documents if you need them, and any paperwork related to child custody if you have kids.

Also remember to speak to your partner candidly about the agreement and make sure there are no skeletons in the closet. While domestic partnerships don't leave you responsible for your partner's debts in this way, you still want to know about financial issues before you set up a power of attorney. When Gabrielle Zevin first met her partner, she didn't have plans to marry. Later, she found out that he was deep in credit card debt due to identity theft and that marriage would mean she'd have to take on his debt.

While domestic partnerships don't leave you responsible for your partner's debts in this way, you still want to know about financial issues before you set up a power of attorney.

Don't let this happen to you. Refer to our guide to keeping you and your finances protected in a domestic partnership which you can find on this page. Scroll beneath this video to join forces with a lawyer who can help.

#2: Sign A Domestic Partnership Agreement. After you've gotten everything out in the open, it's time to sign your domestic partnership agreement so you can officially register. You'll want to have both your lawyers present as you do this so you'll have witnesses ready should anything go wrong. Lawyers are also helpful when it comes to keeping you from making mistakes on your paperwork. You don't want to have to start all over again due to one tiny mistake.

#3: Register. Now you're able to register and put everything on record. To do this, however, you'll still have to meet a few legal requirements. For instance, you both have to be over 18, and you have to have proof of living together for at least a few years. Even if you're as devoted a couple as Mia Farrow and Woody Allen once were, it's not enough to keep separate domiciles if you want to make things official.

Even if you're as devoted a couple as Mia Farrow and Woody Allen once were, it's not enough to keep separate domiciles if you want to make things official.

#4: Have Your Lawyer Double-Check Everything. Before you hand in your paperwork, have your lawyer check and re-check your work to make sure nothing is left out. You don't want to be left in the cold should anything happen between you and your partner. In 2016, rapper Iggy Azalea split from her ex-fiancee Nick Young when she caught him cheating in their bed on her home security footage.

Luckily, Azalea had great lawyers making sure that even though the pair had been sharing a life together, Young wasn't able to ask for anything or press charges as a result of the breakup. We're not lawyers, and this isn't legal advice, but if you want to protect yourself, you need to be smart about the situation and keep an experienced lawyer by your side at all times.

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