What to Consider When Ending a Gay Domestic Partnership Through Divorce

Throughout the history of California’s dynamic LGBT rights movement, domestic partnership and marriage laws have changed dramatically. In California, statewide domestic partnership was legalized in 1999, over a decade before gay marriage was fully legalized in the state in 2013. Today, domestic partnership is only available to non-heterosexual couples and straight couples where at least one person is 62 or older. Even though Obergefell v Hodges brought the right to gay marriage in all 50 states in 2015, some couples still prefer domestic partnerships for a variety of reasons. In this post, we’ll cover several key questions to ask when ending a gay domestic partnership through divorce.

Should we end our partnership through divorce, annulment, or legal separation?

As mentioned, domestic partnerships at the California state level are essentially treated the same as a marriage within the state. Therefore, like marriage, it may be ended through divorce, annulment, or legal separation. In legal terms, a divorce is also called a “dissolution,” and it has multiple steps and requirements. It legally and completely ends the domestic partnership. Legal separation offers some similarities to divorce, such as division of assets, but the couple technically remains legally bound. In contrast, to annul a domestic partnership means to prove that it was never legal in the first place. For more details on the differences between these three, please see our previous blog post.

Do we meet the residency requirements?

If your domestic partnership was originally filed in California, there are no residency requirements–you may file for dissolution regardless of where you are living. For many domestic partners, they both filed for their domestic partnership in California, and continue to live in California. This means all residency requirements are met. However, if you move to another state, and file for dissolution there, it means that the court may have limited jurisdiction on decisions about child custody, division of assets, and more. Therefore, it is advisable that you contact an attorney.

If instead your domestic partnership was originally filed in another state, you must have lived in California for 6 months, and in the county where the dissolution will be filed for 3 months.

Can we agree on how to dissolve the partnership?

Ending a relationship involves many difficult decisions, including how to divide shared assets (such as real estate) and liabilities (such as credit card debt). If children are involved, it involves decisions around custody and visitation. If couples are able to come to an agreement on all these points and more, they may not need to stand in front of a judge in court. Instead, they may be able to use a mediator.

Is there a simplified process?

For couples who have been domestic partners for less than five years, and who meet the requirements under section 299 of California Family Law, a simplified dissolution process may be available to you. Generally speaking, this process is only available to those who will have a very simple dissolution, with “no children, no real property, very few assets or debts, and a written agreement on dividing their property, in addition to other restrictions,” as explained by the California courts. For those couples, instead of full dissolution proceeding, they may simply file a “Notice of Termination of Domestic Partnership” with the California Secretary of State. Couples that are both married and in a domestic partnership can also file this simplified notice if they meet similar requirements.

Do we need an attorney?

The process of dissolving a domestic partnership can be complicated, especially if the couple cannot come to an agreement on how to proceed. If you anticipate any possible disagreements, particularly with regards to custody and visitation plans, or if your assets and liabilities are complex, we highly recommend hiring an experienced lgbt divorce attorney.

The Gay Family Law Center is experienced with working with LGBT families in family law. Our highly skilled and compassionate attorneys can work with you to ease the challenging process of ending a relationship. Contact us to set up a free consultation.

Photo by Michael Jasmund