Not all long-term relationships end up in marriage. In fact, more couples than ever are trading in marriage vows for just living together. If you decide not to formally wed, you should still consider taking legal action to protect your rights and status when it comes to family leave, health care, estate matters and more. For more information about how to deal with the legal ramifications of a long-term committed relationship and domestic partnerships, read below.
States and municipalities that recognize domestic partnerships.
If you live in one of the entities below, you will experience many of the same benefits that married couples do:
- New Jersey
- Washington D.C.
- New York City
- San Francisco
Couples residing in these areas can expect:
- Healthcare coverage provided by your partner.
- Eligibility under the Family and Medical Leave Act
- Eligibility for public assistance programs such as housing and food stamps.
- Medical next-of-kin status and hospital visitation privileges.
- Beneficiary privileges for state retirement plans.
- Joint filing status for state tax returns.
No federal status
It's important to note that domestic partnerships are not recognized by the federal government, so joint filing of federal tax returns is not available and neither are Social Security benefits (from your partner's earnings) for the same reason.
Domestic partner benefits regardless of residency
Many large corporations are now recognizing domestic partnerships for employees in all states and municipalities. This means health insurance coverage, a valuable perk. You must prove that you are actually in a domestic partnership by showing documents where both names are listed, such as leases or mortgages.
Creating your own agreement
You may not be living in an area that legally recognizes domestic partnerships, but you can, and should, craft your own private agreement. Setting out guidelines on financial issues, such as who is responsible for debt, could help ensure smoother sailing in the future. Some issues should be addressed separately, and they include:
- For Real Estate: Several ownership categories are available such as joint ownership or joint tenants.
- For Estate Planning: Community property laws may or may not apply to domestic partnerships, depending upon what state you reside, but you must specifically address and provide for your partner in your will if that is your wish.
- For Children: You may choose to legally adopt a child that is not your biological child. If your partnership should come to an end, you will have no legal standing for visitation or custody without a formal adoption.
Consult with a family law attorney, like Baudler, Maus, Forman, Kritzer & Wagner, LLP, in your area to get more specifics about domestic partnerships. With your attorney's help, you and your partner can create an agreement that covers all bases and helps you to form a legal bond with each other.