What’s the Difference Between a Domestic Partnership and a Marriage?

Posted on October 7th, 2021

Everyone understands what marriage is. People have been getting married for millennia, originally for reasons such as alliances and property. Today, most people tie the knot as a declaration of love, and as marriage has evolved, we have come up with alternatives to it. One that has been growing in popularity around the country is a domestic partnership.

Legally known as a Domestic Partnership Agreement, or a Cohabitation Agreement, this legal agreement allows two people to choose to live with each other in a romantic partnership without being married. More than just dating, this has documentation where each person’s rights and responsibilities are established in regard to financial expenses and assets acquired during the period of their cohabitation.

Domestic partnerships are one of the closest alternatives to marriage. They were originally created in the early 1980s for same-sex couples who could not yet get legally married. This way they could have as many of the same privileges and rights as married couples.

What Rights Do Married Couples Have that Those In a Domestic Partnership Don’t?

Marriages and domestic partnerships have to have some differences between them or else there wouldn’t be a reason to have both of them. Their differences come from the rights attributed to married couples under the law, that are not attributed to domestic partnerships. These include:

  • Legal recognition across all fifty states. Only some cities in Pennsylvania recognize domestic partnerships.
  • Domestic partners are not considered “family” by law. Any law that explicitly has to do with family, such as estate planning laws, would not recognize domestic partners as family.
  • Married partners can petition for citizenship. Domestic partnerships cannot be used to help someone become a citizen.
  • Married partners automatically receive their partner’s estate without paying taxes. Domestic partners do automatically get their partner’s estate but are taxed first.

What Rights Do Both Have?

Domestic partnerships do give unmarried couples several key rights that would make it an alternative worth using. These rights include:

  • Establishing financial responsibilities for the relationship. Couples can legally bind each other to pay for things like child support or something similar to spousal support without being married and divorced.
  • Guaranteeing the pass-down of estate and/or property. While the couple would have to pay taxes, as previously mentioned, should one partner die, their estate would go to the other partner.
  • Placing domestic partners on the other partner’s insurance. It’s not uncommon for companies to recognize domestic partnerships the same way as marriages, allowing for this to happen. Whether it’s privately paid for insurance, or provided by a company, it’s commonly allowed for a domestic partner to be added to the other partner’s plan.

Why Choose to Enter a Domestic Partnership?

While same-sex marriage is legal across the country now, there are some couples of any gender who see the benefits of obtaining some of the rights that come with marriage, but not others. Marriage has a lot more strings attached than domestic partnerships. There are more forms and rules to go with the court proceedings to become married, and even more in one’s separation.

Domestic partnerships, by comparison, are far easier to end. With a divorce, there are matters of marital asset division that don’t happen in a domestic partnership. Domestic partnerships don’t turn assets that the couple accumulates into marital assets. Whoever bought something owns it. So if a couple in a domestic partnership bought something together, they would have to agree or have a civil dispute over that piece of the property personally. While this can be chaotic in some examples, it can be easier on couples who amicably separate because no court needs to get involved.

To end a domestic partnership, one partner has to file with the secretary of state, the county clerk, or the court. They can go through a usual divorce proceeding, especially if the partnership produced children, but it is not always necessary.

Contact Scranton Divorce Lawyer Craig Kalinoski

Pennsylvania has many complicated laws and rules surrounding domestic partnerships. It can be hard to tell if yours is recognized by the state in any way. If you need help understanding the rights you have or want to dissolve it in a manner similar to divorce, Scranton’s divorce attorney, Craig Kalinoski, can help. Contact Kalinoski Law Offices today for a consultation.

Category: Family Law

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Craig Kalinoski
Craig Kalinoski

Craig P. Kalinoski is a respected attorney serving clients in Scranton, Pennsylvania. With a focus on Family Law, Criminal Defense, and Civil Rights, he has established himself as a top-rated legal professional. Recognized as a Rising Star and admired by peers, Craig's commitment to excellence sets him apart in the legal field.


We fight for the rights of our clients in a wide spectrum of practice areas, ranging from criminal defense to family law and personal injury.

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