Cohabitant's Rights and Domestic Partnerships in California


I often receive calls from persons who just ended a relationship with their significant other with whom they were cohabitating. Invariably, the questions focus on what rights they may be entitled to under the law with respect to property rights and support. The law is very clear in this regard. Only married persons and those registered as domestic partners are vested with the community property rights (absent any contractual agreements expressly detailing such rights). These rights include the right to spousal support, community property presumptions, and the division of debts and liabilities that result from the marriage. The balance of this article will focus on the creation and rights of domestic partners.

The definition of domestic partners as expressed in California Family Code section 297 are "two adults who have chosen to share one another's lives in an intimate and committed relationship of mutual caring."

Not everyone, however, is eligible for domestic partnership status. In order to qualify as domestic partners, the following conditions must be satisfied:

  1. There can be no pre-existing marriage or domestic partnership;
  2. There can be no blood relationship between the proposed domestic partners;
  3. Both persons must be adults; and
  4. Both persons are members of the same sex, or for opposite sex partners, one or both of the persons meet the eligibility criteria under Title II of the Social Security Act; or one or both of the persons must be at least 62 years of age.

The final and most important requirement to qualify as domestic partners is the filing of a Declaration of Domestic Partnership with the Secretary of State. If the Declaration is not filed with the Secretary of State, the domestic partnership is invalid. Registry instructions with the State of California can be found at the following website:

Generally speaking, domestic partnership status is primarily sought by same-sex couples given the requirement that at least one person of an opposite sex couple must be at least 62 years-of-age.

Registered domestic partners have, in large measure, the same rights, protections, and benefits, and shall be subject to the same responsibilities, obligations, and duties under law, as married couples. This is of significance because domestic partners can acquire rights to partner support, community property presumptions, and essentially all other rights and obligations that a married couple would acquire during a marriage. Needless to say, this can both a blessing—and possibly a curse—upon dissolution of the partnership as one partner may be required to pay partner support to the other at the time of separation. With this in mind, entering a domestic partnership should only occur after both parties have fully considered the ramifications thereof.

A domestic partnership can be terminated under certain conditions, as provided by California Family Code section 299, by filing a Notice of Termination of Domestic Partnership with the California Secretary of State. The domestic partnership will be terminated effective six months after the date of filing of the Notice of Termination of Domestic Partnership. Judicial involvement is required when one of the parties is requesting partner support, or when property or child custody/visitation matters are at issue.

Our office is located in Santa Clarita, serving communities in Saugus, Canyon Country, Valencia, Newhall, and more. If you have any questions regarding divorce, spousal support, child support, premarital agreements, or questions regarding creating or terminating a Domestic Partnership, please call Eric Martinelli with the Martinelli Law Group for a free consultation.