Domestic Partnership vs Marriage: Which is Best?

Domestic Partnership vs Marriage: Knowing the difference between the two concepts is important for people in a serious, long-term relationship.

If you’re unsure about getting married, you can live together under a legal agreement that lets you share a home without tying the knot. 

Domestic partnership is a lot like marriage, giving you similar perks but with more flexibility.

However, differences exist, as not all states acknowledge domestic partnerships, and those that do might restrict the benefits and protections available to domestic partners.

What exactly do these benefits and protections entail? Let’s delve into the distinctions between domestic partnership and marriage.

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What Does Domestic Partnership Mean

Domestic Partnership vs Marriage

Domestic partnerships started primarily to address the lack of marriage equality for same-sex couples

It was previously the sole means for same-sex couples to access benefits comparable to heterosexual marriage.

According to the law, a domestic partnership/relationship is described as “two adults who have chosen to share one another’s lives in an intimate and committed relationship of mutual caring.”

The criteria for a domestic partnership include:

1. Both partners must be over 18 and willingly agree to enter a domestic relationship.

2. The couple should be committed and living together.

3. They must not be legally or religiously married.

4. Children can be part of the relationship.

5. Neither partner should be married to someone else or have another domestic partner.

6. They are required to share responsibilities for living expenses.

7. Domestic partners cannot be blood relatives.

While a domestic partnership is not exactly the same as a common law marriage, couples can enjoy some benefits similar to those of a married couple. 

Many individuals, irrespective of their sexual orientation, are now choosing domestic partnership because it closely resembles marriage. 

After entering the relationship through the Domestic Partnership Agreement, partners can outline financial, property, health, and medical details, potentially enjoying certain legal benefits. 

Domestic Partnership vs Marriage: Similarities  

To find out which is better ‘domestic partnership vs marriage’ first consider the similarities between the two concepts:

1. Dissolution Process

Despite seeking legal rights in a domestic partnership, the process of separation can closely resemble divorce for domestic partners. 

While the intent may be to explore the smoother option for staying with a partner, understanding these similarities becomes crucial in deciding between a spouse and a domestic partner.

In several states, including California, assets acquired during a marriage can be equally divided in a divorce. 

Surprisingly, domestic partnership rights offer the same division in the event of dissolution. So, you may not only be left with a broken heart.

2. Health Insurance Benefits

In terms of health insurance, domestic partners are entitled to similar benefits as married couples. 

While variations exist across states, broader provisions often allow couples to claim health benefits, extending coverage to their children as well.

For instance, the State of New Jersey emphasizes, “The intent of the Act is to treat domestic partners of covered persons as spouses for purposes of providing health insurance coverage. 

Accordingly, if a spouse’s natural, adoptive, or stepchildren would be covered, the domestic partner’s children would similarly be covered.” This essentially encourages the building of a happy family!

3. Housing Rights

Choosing a domestic partnership over legal marriage doesn’t hinder securing a shared residence. 

As domestic partners, whether in same-sex relationships or not, asserting your status as a legally recognized couple should not impede your efforts to find a place. 

The Domestic Partnership Law acknowledges the diversity of family structures, allowing you the freedom to live your lives in a home of your choice.

Domestic Partnership vs Marriage: Differences 

There are many differences between domestic partnerships and marriages and they include:

1. Recognition 

When comparing domestic partnership to marriage, a significant drawback is that not all states legally recognize domestic partnerships. 

Despite sharing various aspects of life, from personal items to joint bank accounts, some states may not acknowledge you as fully-fledged domestic partners. 

Even in jurisdictions where it is legal, certain domestic partnership rights may face challenges, especially from conservative viewpoints.

Also, given that domestic partners lack federal recognition, one partner cannot petition for their non-citizen counterpart to maintain residence in the United States. 

In contrast, a non-citizen who weds a U.S. citizen can apply for permanent residency.

2. Rights Regarding Children

In legal terms, a domestic partnership does not receive the same level of recognition as a family. 

While a married couple enjoys heightened legal protection, domestic partners lack the legal standing to claim each other as “family.” 

Consequently, they may not possess the same familial rights, such as the ability to adopt, contingent upon the state’s regulations.

Despite not having all the same rights, several laws can still protect a household in a domestic partnership scenario, such as; payment of child support or similar support by a domestic partner without marriage

2. Tax Benefits for Domestic Partners

In the domestic partnership versus marriage debate, tax considerations often favor the former. 

Married couples often face high taxes, while domestic partnerships may avoid certain tax penalties. 

Opting for a domestic relationship allows couples to file taxes separately, offering potential savings.

3. Estate or Property Rights 

Another notable difference between domestic partnership and marriage relates to acquiring a house or estate together. 

In a domestic partnership, the process can be more challenging compared to a married couple. 

Only one person can apply for a mortgage, requiring a cohabitation property agreement to safeguard against potential issues. In contrast, marital assets present a more straightforward process.

In marriage, a spouse’s properties automatically pass down without incurring taxes. However, in a domestic partnership, properties may pass down with tax implications.

The varying recognition of same-sex marriage and domestic partnerships at the federal and state levels can pose challenges not faced by heterosexual married couples.

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4. Financial Benefits 

One of the key disparities between being domestic partners and being married lies in financial benefits. 

While potential spousal support exists in both arrangements, domestic partners don’t receive retirement or other social security benefits comparable to married couples. 

The limitations on retirement benefits often influence people to choose marriage over a domestic relationship, aiming to secure their future.

5. Proof of Partnership 

Unlike marriage, domestic partners typically must provide more evidence of their committed relationship to access the benefits they deserve. 

Evidence may include a shared bank account, and partners may opt to complete a Domestic Partnership Agreement detailing shared medical, financial, and property aspects. 

In contrast, married couples often only need to furnish a marriage certificate

Advantages Accessible in Domestic Partnerships

The concept of domestic partnership was crafted to afford committed individuals the opportunity to lead lives resembling those of married couples, experiencing what feels akin to legal matrimony.

Within a domestic relationship, there are numerous legal benefits, both economic and non-economic, and the ensuing domestic partnership rights:

1. Avoiding the Married Tax Penalty

A household’s overall tax bill may increase when a couple marries and files taxes jointly, known as the marriage penalty. However, this tax does not apply to domestic partners.

2. Health and Dental Benefits

Regardless of gender, health and dental benefits are extended to domestic partners.

4. The Right to Adopt

In cases where the child is born to a different partner, the right to legally adopt the domestic partner’s child is granted, exemplifying one of the benefits available in domestic partnerships.

5. Health Benefits in a Domestic Partnership

The right to take up to five consecutive work days of paid bereavement leave for a partner, child, step-child, parent, or sibling is afforded in a domestic partnership.

6. Visitation Rights in Healthcare Facilities

In hospital scenarios, partners are entitled to visitation rights, treated as family members, and are provided potential spousal support without the confines of marriage.

7. Inheritance Rights

In the event of a partner’s death without a will, the surviving partner can inherit the property, though domestic partners may need a will to inherit their counterpart’s estate and may still be subject to applicable taxes.

States that Recognize Domestic Partnership

Several states and districts persist in legally acknowledging domestic partnerships or civil unions post the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling:

States recognizing domestic partnerships statewide: Connecticut, Hawaii, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.

States acknowledging domestic partnerships in specific cities and/or counties: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin.

Post the federal legalization of same-sex marriage, Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont converted all civil unions into marriages.

It’s crucial to note that the specific benefits associated with domestic partnerships vary across jurisdictions, with some states offering more than others.


Is a Live-in Boyfriend/Girlfriend Considered a Domestic Partner?

Living with your partner or boyfriend as roommates doesn’t necessarily qualify as a domestic partnership.

While romantic involvement cohabitation in a permanent residence, and sharing basic financial responsibilities, are prerequisites for a domestic relationship it does not always translate to legal recognition.

A boyfriend or girlfriend can attain the status of a domestic partner only through the legal submission of the required forms. 

Can a Domestic Partner Get Married?

Yes, domestic partners have the option to get married whenever they choose. Domestic partnership and marriage carry distinct rights under the law. 

If transitioning from domestic partnership to marriage is desired, the process involves legally registering for marriage.

Can Opposite-Sex Couples Engage in Domestic Partnerships?

Although initially established for same-gender couples, domestic partnerships are not exclusive to them. 

Opposite-gender couples can also register for and participate in domestic relationships.

Read Also: How to Restart a Marriage: Ways Reconnect With Your Partner in 30 Days

Final Thoughts 

The choice between domestic partnership and marriage ultimately hinges on personal preferences. 

Some committed couples may opt for domestic partnership over marriage due to a preference for not marrying or limited options. 

Domestic partnership provides an alternative with some parallel benefits to marriage. 

Determining whether a domestic partnership is suitable is a decision only the involved partners can make.

Individuals who are conservative and religious often favor marriage over domestic partnership, considering it a superior option that offers significant benefits and protections, universally recognized across all U.S. states. 

However, it’s worth noting that some states may not allow or recognize domestic partnerships.

If contemplating a domestic partnership, seeking guidance from an estate planning attorney can clarify inheritance rights.


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