Domestic partnerships offer unmarried but committed couples many of the same benefits as marriage. This partnership may be a good option for individuals seeking some legal recognition of their union but who have an objection to the institution of marriage or would be financially disadvantaged by marrying.

For some, a marriage may terminate the pension benefits or spousal support they receive from a former spouse. Others may want to avoid the marriage tax penalty, which requires a person to pay more taxes as a married spouse. An attorney experienced in Washington, D.C. domestic partnership laws could help you determine whether a domestic partnership is the best choice for your unique situation.

What is a Domestic Partnership?

D.C. Official Code §32-702 defines domestic partnerships as relationships between two individuals who have formally registered their partnership. Unmarried individuals, whether of the same sex or different genders, are permitted to register as domestic partners.

To have a legally recognized domestic partnership, the partners must be:

  • Eighteen years or older
  • Competent to enter into a domestic partnership
  • Not be married or in any other domestic partnership
  • Be in a committed relationship with one another
  • Domestic partners must also share a residence

Applying for Domestic Partnership

To register as domestic partners, both parties must appear in person at the Vital Records Division of the D.C. Department of Health, provide documentation to satisfy domestic partnership requirements, submit an application, and pay the fee. While an in-person interview is not required, the Registrar of the Division of Vital Records may request that the couple verifies under oath the information in their application. They must also prove that they do live together by submitting one of the following:

  • Current residential lease naming both applicants as occupants
  • Current residential mortgage naming both applicants as mortgagors
  • Deed for residential property showing both applicants as joint owners
  • If valid photo I.D. shows the same address, an affidavit executed within the previous six months stating, under penalties of perjury, that they share a residence

Under D.C. Official Code §32-702(c), the registration document is a public record viewable by anyone, except that the couple’s address will remain confidential.

What Are The Benefits of Domestic Partnership?

There are many benefits available to domestic partners in D.C., including the following:

  • The right to visit one’s partner in any hospital, nursing home, or other health care facility
  • The rights of both partners to be the legal parents of any child born to them
  • Eligibility for maternity and paternity leave, and annual leave or leave without pay if the couple adopts a child
  • The right to inherit from the other partner
  • Equitable division of property if the partnership dissolves
  • Financial support from a former partner when appropriate
  • The right to enter into a binding pre-partnership agreement, similar to a prenuptial agreement

Additionally, if one partner works for and was employed by the D.C. government after 1987, they may include their domestic partner in their family health insurance coverage and use sick leave to care for their partner or the minor child of either partner.

Amending a Domestic Partnership

A domestic partnership may be amended to add a domestic partner’s dependent child, change an address, or file a legal name change for either partner. Only a partner may amend the domestic partnership records. Applications to amend must be submitted to the Division of Vital records.

Terminating a Washington, DC Domestic Partnership

While generally not as complicated as a divorce, the termination of a domestic partnership does require that certain actions be taken before the partnership is legally ended. Either partner may terminate the partnership by filing a termination statement signed by both partners confirming an intent to terminate. The partnership is then deemed terminated six months after the statement is filed.

A domestic partnership automatically terminates if the partners marry each other or if one partner dies. A partner may seek termination due to abandonment if the other partner left the shared residence for six months before filing the termination statement or there has been no contact between the partners for at least six months. In the event of marriage or a partner’s death or abandonment, termination is effective as soon as the termination statement is filed. Reach out to an attorney today if you have questions regarding domestic partnerships.