Modern families come in many forms, and registering as domestic partners is a beneficial alternative for Colorado couples who want to establish a legally committed relationship without a traditional marriage. Domestic partnerships were first created in the 1980s for same-sex couples seeking legal recognition of their relationships so they could enjoy the same type of benefits that are afforded to heterosexual couples by marriage.
In 2015, with Obergefell vs. Hodges, the US Supreme Court declared that same-sex couples should have access to the same marriage rights as opposite-sex couples. While many cohabitating same-sex couples have taken advantage of this change and decided to marry, others continue to prefer domestic partnerships, and this type of arrangement is now common for heterosexual couples, as well.
If you are considering entering a domestic partnership, contact the Fort Collins domestic partnership lawyers at Johnson Law Group to discuss if this is the right option for you.
A domestic partnership is a legal arrangement two people enter to affirm their commitment to a relationship of mutual caring and support and their intention to continue in such a relationship. Any couple in Colorado (regardless of gender) can register as domestic partners if they are both at least 18 years of age, living in the same household, competent to sign a legal contract, are not related to a degree that would prohibit a marriage, and are not already married or in an existing domestic partnership or civil union.
A domestic partnership shares certain similarities with a marriage in Colorado. If you are registered domestic partners, you and your partner can file taxes jointly, receive the other’s partner’s pension, and file a wrongful death case if the other partner dies due to someone else’s negligence. Any communication between you and your partner is legally privileged, and the law cannot force you to disclose this information. Neither of you can be required to testify against the other or questioned on the stand about statements the other made during your partnership.
A domestic partnership differs from a marriage, however, in the following ways:
The federal government will not recognize you and your partner as spouses. Because domestic partnerships are not established under federal guidelines, they are not uniformly recognized by the federal government or its agencies, including the IRS, Medicare, and Medicaid. Partners are not eligible for the rights, benefits, and protections provided by federal law on the basis of marital status, such as social security, taxes, immigration, and health insurance.
Domestic partnerships are not recognized in all 50 states. If you register a domestic partnership in Colorado and move out of state, your partnership may not be recognized by other states, meaning you and your partner may not receive the same benefits or protections you were granted in Colorado.
You and your partner are not considered family members. If you and your partner have a child together and later decide to terminate your domestic partnership, you must file an Allocation of Parental Rights and Responsibilities form to determine issues of child custody, visitation, and child support.
If your employer offers family benefits for health insurance, these benefits may not extend to domestic partners in the same way they do for married couples. If your employer’s insurance policy does cover domestic partners, you will likely be required to sign an affidavit swearing that you meet all the criteria for a domestic partnership. This includes sharing the same permanent residence, intending to do so indefinitely, and being jointly responsible for basic living expenses.
While health insurance premiums for married spouses and dependents are considered benefits and cannot be taxed, any premiums paid by your employer for your domestic partner are considered taxable income and must be reported on your W-2. This means you are responsible for paying income tax and Social Security tax on a portion of the premiums that your employer contributes to their policy in every paycheck.
You and your partner do not have joint ownership of assets. In a marriage, any property, assets, or debts acquired during a marriage are considered marital property and must be divided or shared equally after a divorce. When a domestic partnership ends, you and your partner must initiate a partition case, which involves selling jointly owned property and dividing the proceeds between the two of you.
Any debts accrued during the partnership will only be considered joint debts if they are in both your names. A Fort Collins domestic partnership lawyer can help you create a pre-partnership agreement – a document similar to a prenuptial agreement for soon-to-be-married spouses – to ensure that your debts are divided appropriately without requiring litigation.
You and your partner cannot share each other’s retirement benefits after the partnership is terminated unless you are named as beneficiaries.
You and your partner do not automatically inherit each other’s assets without significant tax penalties. You can create an estate plan to streamline the process of asset transfer after death, but you will be responsible for paying additional taxes that would not apply to a married couple.
A domestic partnership does not grant you or your partner the right to petition for a change in immigration status as a marriage would. If your partner is a foreign national on a temporary visa in the US, registering a domestic partnership signals intent to stay in the country, which violates visa stipulations.
If you meet the eligibility requirements, you enter a domestic partnership by registering as domestic partners with the state of Colorado. Complete a Domestic Partnership Application, then make an appointment with the clerk at your local County Registrar’s Office. You must both appear to submit your application, supporting documentation, and $25 registration fee. You must both provide valid picture identification (i.e., driver’s license, passport, or military ID) and proof that you share the same address (i.e., joint mortgage, lease agreement, joint checking account, or utility bills addressed to each individual at the same address).
The clerk will record the information from your registration in their database and issue two copies of your domestic partnership certificate, one for you and your partner and the other to be kept on file at the county government offices. This database is part of public record, but you can request not to have your names and birthdates appear in the database.
One of the benefits of entering a domestic partnership is that terminating the arrangement is far quicker and easier than undergoing a divorce. A domestic partnership automatically ends if one of the partners dies or the partners no longer meet one or more requirements included in the affidavit for domestic partnership, such as:
To terminate a partnership for another reason, you must complete a Termination of Domestic Partnership Application, sign and date this form, and submit it to the same office you submitted your Domestic Partnership Application, along with the $25 processing fee. You and your partner must both sign this application to officially terminate the partnership, unless you cannot locate your partner or they refuse to cooperate. In this case, it is possible to terminate the partnership with only one signature, but you must provide evidence (certified mail receipt) showing that you have made a reasonable attempt to notify them of the termination.
Because a domestic partnership does not offer the same benefits as a marriage, it is vital to make additional arrangements for important legal, financial, and medical matters. At Johnson Law Group, our Fort Collins domestic partnership lawyers can help you develop a comprehensive estate plan to protect your interests and ensure your wishes are faithfully carried out. A complete estate plan includes the following:
A: Domestic partnership is legal in Colorado, but receiving the rights and protections of this arrangement requires formally registering this partnership with the state. The steps of this process are outlined above.
A: Two individuals of any gender can register a domestic partnership in Colorado by signing an affidavit swearing that they are both:
A: In Colorado, domestic partnerships and civil unions both provide legal protections to couples at the state level, and neither are recognized by the federal government, but these are two different types of legal arrangements. Domestic partners retain limited rights, such as receiving a partner’s pension or sharing their health insurance coverage, while civil unions are treated as marriages by state courts, allowing couples to enjoy nearly all the same rights and benefits as a married couple.
A: Companies are not required by federal law to extend benefits to domestic partners if they offer coverage to married spouses, but certain states and municipalities do mandate that employers offer coverage to unmarried couples. The cities of Boulder and Denver allow domestic partnership registration and extend benefits to registered domestic partners.
If you and your significant other are interested in registering as domestic partners, you should consult a Fort Collins domestic partnership lawyer to obtain the best outcome. At Johnson Law Group, our attorneys understand the complexities of these relationships and can help you determine if this is the right option for your family. We can help you evaluate the advantages and drawbacks of a domestic partnership for your unique situation, assist you in preparing and filing all necessary paperwork to register as domestic partners, and create an estate plan that protects your interests. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.