Domestic Partnership vs. Marriage in California – What Is the Difference?

By Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP | Oct 15, 2022

Families come in all shapes and sizes. While some families have children, others have pets or plants. Some couples are married, while others remain unmarried for most of their lives. The setup of a family is a personal choice, allowing everyone to choose a lifestyle that works for them.

Although socially the structure of a family is fairly irrelevant, it can make a difference in the eyes of the law. Marriage gives a couple certain rights and tax benefits, for example, causing a shift in the legal needs of the family. California law recognizes both marriage and domestic partnership as long-term romantic arrangements.

If you are considering marriage or a domestic partnership, it is important to understand each one and how it may affect your life. There are benefits and drawbacks to both setups, but by understanding them, you can make an informed and empowered decision about your relationship, family, and future.

What Is a Domestic Partnership?

While many people understand marriage, domestic partnership is less common and therefore not as well understood.

On the surface, domestic partnerships and marriages are similar. However, domestic partnerships indicate that a couple has chosen to spend their home lives together without a marriage certificate. In the past, domestic partnerships were the choice of many same-sex or LGBTQ+ partners who were not allowed to legally marry. Domestic partners do not need to be romantically involved. They can simply be two people who are dependent on one another and wish to reside together on a permanent basis.

Benefits of a Domestic Partnership

Domestic partnerships have some distinct benefits to consider, including:

  • The right to adopt children
  • The right to bereavement leave
  • The right to family leave for your partner
  • Visitation rights at a hospital or other setting
  • Inheritance rights
  • Legal rights to shared children

These are all rights that a couple has when they marry as well. However, a domestic partnership offers them without the confines or restrictions of a marriage.

Domestic partnerships are generally beneficial agreements, and the drawbacks only appear when put in contrast with marriage. Domestic partners do have many privileges, but not as many as the nearly 1,000 benefits that married couples have.

Domestic Partnership vs. Marriage

Although domestic partnerships do have many of the same benefits as marriages, there are many things that you cannot do in a domestic partnership that you can do in a marriage. For example, in a domestic partnership, you cannot:

  • File taxes jointly with your partner.
  • Transfer assets without being taxed on their value.
  • Use family insurance benefits.
  • Claim ownership of half of your shared assets if you separate.
  • Collect your partner’s government or social security benefits.

Another major difference between a domestic partnership and marriage is the way the relationship ends. When a marriage ends in divorce, there is a formal process that the couple must undergo. The court must split shared assets, determine spousal support, and more.

Ending a domestic partnership is much more straightforward. One member of the partnership must fill out the termination form and submit it to the correct government office. The other partner does not need to consent or sign. The county clerk is responsible for notifying the other partner that the domestic partnership has been dissolved. Although this process can take upwards of six months, it is usually shorter than divorce proceedings, where a couple must have lived apart for six months before they can even begin.


Q: Is Domestic Partnership the Same as Marriage in California?

A: No. Although the state offers many of the same benefits to domestic partners as to married couples, there are strict rules restricting the tax benefits, legal benefits, and insurance benefits that domestic partners can receive through their partner. One partner can end a domestic partnership, whereas both individuals must agree to a divorce. Married couples have nearly 1,000 benefits, whereas domestic partners do not have access to many of those benefits.

Q: What Qualifies as a Domestic Partner in California?

A: To qualify as a domestic partner, you must register with the state as such. You must be at least 18 years old, not a direct blood relative of your partner, and you cannot be in any other marriage or domestic partnership arrangement. Domestic partners are two people who are committed to living with one another and sharing their lives. This means that long-term roommates, lifelong cohabitating friends, and couples can all enter into a domestic partnership if they so choose.

Q: What Are the Cons of a Domestic Partnership?

A: Domestic partners do not have access to all the benefits of a marriage. They cannot file taxes jointly, they cannot share health insurance benefits, and they cannot collect social security or government benefits from their partner. There also may be social stereotypes or disadvantages to choosing domestic partnership over marriage, depending on your community and situation.

Q: Do Domestic Partners Have to File Taxes Together in California?

A: No. In fact, domestic partners are not allowed to file taxes together in California. This is one of the key downsides to choosing domestic partnership over marriage. Married couples have the option to file their taxes jointly or separately. However, domestic partners must file their taxes separately from one another and lose the tax benefits that married couples enjoy.

Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP: Your Family Law Attorneys

Family law issues, such as domestic partnerships and marriage, are often complicated. Whether you are facing divorce, child custody negotiations, child support battles, spousal support requests, or something altogether different, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by a family law issue. Family is important for most people, and undergoing legal turmoil surrounding your family can create stress and drama. Our firm is here to help.

For many years, our team has been helping families navigate their legal issues. Whether you are married, in a domestic partnership, or have another family dynamic, we are here to offer comprehensive, honest, and reliable legal counsel for you and your loved ones.

For more information about the ways in which our firm can support you, contact Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP, via our website today.

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