What Is a Domestic Partnership?

Updated on April 4, 2024

At a Glance

  • Domestic partnerships originated in the 1980s as an alternative for same-sex couples seeking recognition before same-sex marriage was legalized.
  • While not federally recognized, each state defines domestic partnerships differently.
  • They are committed relationships between adults, often same-sex couples, with shared residence and finances, similar to marriage.
  • Requirements vary by state, but partners generally need to be mentally competent, have a common residence, and fulfill other criteria.

Up until now, people learned one thing: if they want to further their relationship and be more than just “in a relationship,” they have to pop up that ring and get married. Some could, and some couldn’t. With that in mind, legally speaking, that is no longer the only option.

An alternative to marriage is a domestic partnership. It’s like being married – but without a wedding. It’s a partnership between two individuals that are committed to each other but haven’t gone for a full-blown wedding. Read more to find out exactly what a domestic partnership is.  

What Is a Domestic Partnership?

It may seem like something new, but domestic partnerships date back to the ‘80s when gay and lesbian couples were asking for recognition of their relationships. Back in that time, same-sex marriages were not allowed, which is why they asked for an alternative that would offer benefits similar to a marriage.

The first state to extend benefits for same-sex couples in the form of domestic partnerships was Vermont. Nowadays, while not every state offers these benefits, quite a few followed up with the lead offered by Vermont.

Domestic partnerships have no federal guidelines, meaning that these relationships are not recognized by the federal government. That being said, each state will define these relationships differently, with its own rules – all independent from the federal government.

In a state that continues to offer this, domestic partnerships are unmarried couples that are committed to each other in the same way that a marriage would be. Most domestic partnerships would be same-sex, but ever since the Obergefell v. Hodges decision came to pass, domestic partnerships involved opposite-sex partners too.

Usually, domestic partners would share a residence as well as their finances. Depending on the case, they might even raise a child together, as an unmarried couple. The only difference between domestic partners and married couples is that the former won’t have that thing called “marriage certification.”

To sum it up, domestic partners are relationships between two adults that follow the requirements below:

  • Are each other’s only domestic partner, and have the intention of remaining so indefinitely
  • Are at least 18 years old and are mentally competent to sign a contract
  • Have a common residence or intend to have one (or would maintain a common residence, but obstacles such as finances or work location prevent it).
  • Are not joined in civil unions, married or domestic partners to anyone else
  • Share responsibilities and financial obligations
  • Are not related in a way that would normally prevent legal marriage

Couples filing for domestic partnerships need to be able to provide documentation that they fulfill all of these requirements. They also need to understand that falsification of these documents is considered a crime and may also result in jail time.

How to Register for a Domestic Partnership

The partners that wish to register for a domestic partnership must declare that their relationship is a serious, committed one – and it has to be done at a courthouse or in any other office designated by the government.

Depending on the state that you live in, you may sign up for a domestic partnership by going through your employer, a local government, and the state. Usually, it starts by filling an application, which you will sign in front of witnesses.

You will also be required to go to a notary office, where they will verify the identities of the partners using various forms of state identification (i.e., the driver’s license). Once the application has been completed, you will have to pay a filing fee, which may differ based on the state that you are applying in.  

Benefits of a Domestic Partnership

The benefits of domestic partnerships usually depend on the state that you are in. That being said, some of the most common benefits include

  • Bereavement and sick leave
  • Insurance rights and death benefit
  • Vision, dental, and health insurance
  • Power to make financial or medical decision for your partner
  • Visitation rights in hospitals or jail
  • Life and accident insurance
  • Adoption benefits and parental leave
  • Housing rights
  • Visa benefits, if you are applying for a green card

Occasionally, employers may also offer benefits to people in their employment that are in a domestic partnership. It does not matter whether the state recognizes your status or not. This is why you should pay a visit to the HR department if you are in this situation.

Which States Offer Domestic Partnerships?

When marriage equality made its way in the law and same-sex couples were able to become married, various employers and states stopped providing the option for domestic partnerships. That being said, in some states, the fact that not everyone wants to get married is also acknowledged – in which case, they still decide to provide benefits to couples that are committed.

Bear in mind that rules and regulations for domestic partnerships are continuously changing and evolving, which is why it is always a good idea to keep in touch with your attorney. They should be able to keep you up to speed with any extra benefits and changes that become available.

In California, the District of Columbia, Connecticut, New Jersey, Nevada, Vermont, Oregon, and Washington State, the option for domestic partnerships is still available for committed couples. The law has also received regulation from the state government. The list of benefits is variable, but in essence, you have about the same rights as with a citizenship marriage.

It’s very important to understand what the requirements are in your specific state if you wish to get involved in a domestic partnership. For instance, in some cases, domestic partnerships are only limited to same-sex couples whereas others also allow for opposite-sex ones. Some ask that at least one of the partners should be past 62 years of age.

Other states, such as Colorado, Illinois, and Hawaii continue to provide the option for civil unions. An alternative to domestic partnerships, this also offers almost every other benefit of marriage.

In some of the states, such as Michigan, couples looking to register may be able to find benefits and opportunities in the counties and municipalities. However, statewide, it might not be available.

For instance, domestic partnerships aren’t recognized in the State of Michigan. However, if you live in cities such as Detroit, Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo, and East Leasing, you may register for a domestic partnership as long as both partners are at least 18 years of age, unmarried, and not blood-related. They also need to be in a relationship of caring, mutual support, and commitment.

Read More

The Bottom Line

In the end, a domestic partnership is like having a marriage without going through a wedding. Originally, it was intended for same-sex couples that could not get legally married but still wanted to have the right to a legal commitment.

While it still depends on the state that you are in, a domestic partnership will offer you almost the same benefits that marriage would – without the extra hassle. You still need to be committed to the person that you are submitting a domestic partnership with, but it will be much faster and effective – without bothering with a full-blown wedding.

I agree to have my personal information transfered to MailChimp ( more information )
Join over 100,000 visitors who are receiving our newsletter and learn more about finance, immigration, and more!
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

Get the Checklist