Recently, someone was trying to claim the existence of a domestic partnership, even though the parties had not lived together very long and the other person denied any intent to create a domestic partnership. Suffice to say, at times like this I appreciate how clear and precise the law likes to be, which is why we have committees that work out the definitions of all sorts of things, including a domestic partner. Most states (and insurance companies) require the couple to live together for at least 6-12 months, and often there is a registration process. They will also want proof of your joint residency and that you rely on one another, not just for love, but also financial support– so a joint bank statement or loan documents, as well as evidence of having each other designated in the other’s will, power of attorney, etc. If you want to make sure you cover all the bases, it is best to consult with a family law attorney in your area.
Originally, many states created domestic partnerships to try and provide some rights (like insurance benefits) to gay partners that could not be legally married in that state, but in other states this could apply to heterosexual couples as well. Now that DOMA has been repealed so that our federal government will have to recognize gay marriages, more states will surely follow suit– if for no other reason than to keep things clear and simple. This then begs the question- what will happen to domestic partnerships? I’m hoping more states will open up this option to heterosexual couples, and that perhaps we can all enjoy this as a “Marriage-Lite” alternative that will enable couples to recognize their commitment legally, without risking full financial exposure in the event things don’t work out.
For those that may never want to get married again and risk full financial exposure in the event of a divorce, I kind of like the idea of being able to legally recognize that you are in a long-term, loving and committed relationship for purposes of deriving certain benefits, but without opening yourself up to a fight over marital assets or alimony. If you are done having kids, and are over the age of 40 with assets, I think this may be a nice way to commit– without over-extending yourself or needing a prenup. This marriage-lite option, which is quite popular in Europe, is really under-utilized here in the US– especially by heterosexual couples, and it’s something I am really warming up to these days! Only time will tell if America agrees with me. 🙂
By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.