When California first created the legal relationship of "domestic partner," domestic partners had relatively few legal rights. Today, two people who commit to a California domestic partnership have the same legal rights, protections, and benefits, as well as the same responsibilities, obligations, and duties that married couples have.
These rights include being allowed to make health care decisions for each other in circumstances in which married couples would be able to do so. Domestic partners in San Diego County and throughout California are also granted hospital visitation rights, and may take family leave to care for an ill domestic partner as for a spouse. They may access health insurance and other insurance through their domestic partner's employer.
Of tremendous significance are the rights domestic partnerships convey with respect to children. Domestic partners are both presumed to be the parents of a child born into the partnership, and for those whose partners have children from a previous relationship, domestic partnership grants the ability to adopt under stepparent adoption procedures. In essence, California domestic partners have the same parental rights and responsibilities as spouses in any marriage, including the right to parenting time for children if they were born or adopted during the marriage. The issues of both child and spousal support arise in domestic partnership matters.
Domestic partnerships also provide numerous financial benefits. Domestic partners have the same rights as spouses regarding inheritance, whether or not an estate plan is in place. They receive access to survivor benefits from a partner's pension, and have legal standing to sue for the wrongful death of a domestic partner. Domestic partners are treated the same as spouses with respect to property tax provisions, and are required to file California state tax returns as a married couple.
A California domestic partnership is a legal contract between committed couples that conveys most of the same rights as marriage. While most registered domestic partners are same-sex couples, couples of the opposite sex may register as domestic partners if one partner is 62 or older. It's essential to register a domestic partnership so that the partners have the legal protections that married couples often take for granted.
Registering a domestic partnership is actually relatively straightforward. Both partners must complete a "Declaration of Domestic Partnership" form, sign the form and have their signatures notarized. The form must then be submitted to the California Secretary of State along with the appropriate fee, which includes a $10 filing fee and a fee to support a training for service providers regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender domestic abuse, and to provide educational materials on domestic abuse. In some circumstances, there may be an additional $15 processing fee for the form.
Declarations of Domestic Partnership become a searchable part of the public record. Couples who do not want this information available to the public may complete a Confidential Declaration of Domestic Partnership instead, which will mean their partnership documents are accessible only to them.
Unions contracted in other states that are similar in substance to a California domestic partnership, such as civil unions from other states, may be registered in California. Couples need not be California residents in order to register a domestic partnership in San Diego or any other California county, but should be aware that their home state may not recognize the domestic partnership.