Andrews Family Law and Mediation Offices
Domestic Partnerships

Same-Sex Marriage and Domestic Partnership Law

The legal issues surrounding domestic partnerships and same sex marriages have become increasingly significant and complex. The landmark decision by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, 440 Mass. 309 (2003) opened the door for same sex residents of Massachusetts to marry. Other states soon followed, and still more states and local jurisdictions have passed legislation which recognizes domestic partners through Civil Unions and Domestic Partner Registries. Additionally, a growing number of Fortune 500 companies now offer health care and retirement benefits to same-sex partners.

In the summer of 2008 the California Supreme Court made a historic ruling granting marriage rights to same-sex couples. Voters passed and the Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8 taking that right away in November 2008, but the roughly 18,000 couples who married in the interim are still legally married.

While these state and local laws give numerous rights to domestic partners and same-sex married couples, none of them confer rights to pension and related benefits regulated by federal laws. This growing divide between federal laws, such as ERISA, and state laws granting domestic partners benefits, creates increasing legal challenges.

Andrews Law and Mediation Offices stands ready to help you and your partner with your legal needs. Whether you need advice on registration, a pre-registration agreement, a post registration agreement, legal assistance in the dissolving a registered domestic partnership, or an adoption, we can help. To get started, please fill out the Initial Consultation Form, which you may e-mail or fax directly to us, and a member of our staff will call you to arrange for a free consultation appointment.

California Domestic Partnership Law

The Domestic Partner Rights and Responsibility Act – AB 205

As a result of AB 205, the Domestic Partner Rights and Responsibilities Act which was enacted in 2003 and became fully operative in 2005, domestic partners are now endowed with most of the rights and responsibilities given to spouses under California law. Domestic partners may now take advantage of many new benefits and yet AB 205 carries significant legal obligations for registered domestic partners as well. These rights and responsibilities include:

  • Creating and dissolving registered domestic partnerships
  • Community property and financial obligations
  • Parental rights and responsibilities
  • Public benefits
  • Health care and end of life issues and taxes
Andrews Law and Mediation Offices, does not render tax advice. However, persons considering creating, or who are currently in a domestic partnership relationship, must be aware of the fact that currently, the federal government currently does not recognize registered domestic partnerships for any federal purpose, and because federal tax laws give special protections to married couples that are not available to unmarried couples, it is possible, even as related to a divorce proceeding, that transfers of assets greater than $11,000 between domestic partners will be taxed either as income or as a gift by the federal government. We recommend that you contact a tax advisor to assist with any tax question or concerns.

Should We Register?

Domestic Partnership registration is a binding act with significant legal consequences similar to a marital agreement. In California domestic partners can receive information on registration through the California Secretary of State website ( Partnership registration can have significant legal consequences. We suggest you seek legal counsel in order to determine whether registration is good for you.

Do We Need A Pre-Registration or Post-Registration Partnership Agreement?

Many domestic partners choose to create a legal document called, respectively, a Pre-Registration Partnership Agreement – similar to a prenuptial agreement – or a Post Registration Agreement for partners who have already registered . The purpose of a pre-registration or post registration agreement is to establish terms of the relationship, such as the determination of joint and separate property, joint and separate financial obligations. Andrews Law and Mediation Offices is available to help you create an agreement that will work for you and your partner.

Terminating a Domestic Partnership

In most cases, couples wishing to terminate their registered domestic partnership, just as most "married" couples, will be required to go through a court dissolution proceeding, to terminate their relationship. This is an area of major change. Prior to January 1, 2005, registered domestic partners could terminate their relationships simply by mailing in a form to the Secretary of State's Office. There are some cases where a domestic partnership can be terminated without court approval, but in most cases, just like a married couple, domestic partners find it necessary to go through a court proceeding to terminate a registered domestic partnership. In this proceeding the court will separate the parties' assets and make custody determinations for couples with children, as well as determine whether child and spousal support are required.