Domestic partnerships are akin to marriage, only with fewer state-recognized benefits. Partners who wish to register a domestic partnership must live together and share a common domestic life.
Prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage, many domestic partners were same-sex couples who opted for a domestic partnership because they did not have the right to legally marry. Now, while most couples seeking to unite in Maryland choose to formally marry, both same- or opposite-sex couples still have the option of registering their domestic partnerships as an alternative to marriage.
What is a domestic partnership and what are the benefits?
A domestic partnership is simply a civil union that the state has recorded and recognized. Both individuals must be at least 18 and unmarried. They cannot have been registered as a domestic partner for the previous six months.
These legally binding partnerships afford couples several important rights similar to those of marriage, including the right to:
- Visit their partner at a health care facility
- Share a room at a nursing home
- Make decisions about their partner’s health care and funeral arrangements
- Accompany their partner in an ambulance
- Be included in their partner’s insurance policy
- Have organ donation priority
In order to qualify to register a domestic partnership, the couple must be able to produce two forms of proof that they are living together and mutually interdependent, e.g., joint bank accounts, mutual mortgage loan, beneficiary designations on insurance policies, etc.
How has the legalization of same-sex marriage affected domestic partners?
In the early 1990s, many districts in Maryland began maintaining domestic partnership registries to record the agreements and issue valid certificates of status. Later, in 2009, Maryland districts granted domestic partners a handful of additional rights, including the right to be on their partner’s health care plan and the right to an exemption from the inheritance tax.
Finally, in November of 2012, Maryland voters approved same-sex marriage, and legislatures enacted it one month later under The Civil Marriage Protection Act of 2012. When Maryland legislators signed this into law, couples in domestic partnerships had the option to marry or keep their status as a domestic partnership.
Since the legalization of same-sex marriage, state agencies and businesses have been changing their policies to omit domestic partnership benefits.
“A spokeswoman for Gov. Martin O’Malley said he extended domestic partnership status to same-sex couples, but not unmarried straight couples, precisely because people of the same gender were not permitted to marry. ‘Now that same-sex couples can marry,’ spokeswoman Raquel Guillory said, ‘that reason no longer exists,’” The Baltimore Sun reports.
If couples wish to maintain their benefits, they will have to get married.
Now that the state (and as of 2015, the federal government) is blind to gender when it comes to marriage, most same-sex couples wishing to unite opt to get married rather than register a domestic partnership, as married couples have a larger number of rights than domestic partners. Domestic partnerships are essentially becoming obsolete.
How do couples terminate a domestic partnership?
To terminate a domestic partnership, couples will need to submit an affidavit of the termination of a domestic partnership (an approved Statement of Dissolution of Domestic Partnership) to the court and pay the associated fees. In Montgomery County, couples have to notify the Office of Human Resources of the termination within 60 days from the date the relationship ended or from the date one partner dies.
Any benefits from the domestic partnership will either end or continue in the same way they would if the couple were married.
It is important to note, however, that dissolving a partnership is rarely simple or straightforward and therefore may require assistance from a domestic partner lawyer. Similar to divorce, if the couple has significant joint mutual assets and children involved, they will still have to come to terms on how to handle all of those matters.
For same-sex couples wishing to terminate their partnership, they face even more complications when they have children together but only one spouse is the biological parent, especially if the other has not formally adopted the child. In fact, child custody and property division disputes can be exceptionally heated in cases of this nature.
As such, it is highly advisable to have a family law attorney assist you with process of dissolution. For legal help from a domestic partnership lawyer who handles both same- and opposite-sex divorces and terminations of domestic partnerships in Maryland, contact Hecht & Associates. Call us to schedule today to schedule a consultation with a domestic partnership attorney at 301-587-2099.