In California law, a domestic partner is a member of a state-registered domestic partnership, a form of civil union that gives a couple marriage-like status for such things as child custody, inheritance and medical decision-making. Same-sex couples, who are barred from marrying in California, account for 95 percent of domestic partnerships, "The Wall Street Journal" reports. Most opposite-sex couples are not eligible to form domestic partnerships because they already have the option of getting married.
Same-sex couples in which both people are over 18 are eligible to form domestic partnerships, as are opposite-sex couples if at least one member of that couple is 62 years old. Lawmakers included the provision for seniors because some Social Security recipients---widowed homemakers, for example---can lose their benefits or have them sharply reduced when they remarry. In both cases, the partners must be unmarried and unrelated, and they must share a common residence at the time they file for recognition of the partnership.
Couples must fill out state Form NP/SF DP-1, including their notarized signatures, and submit it with the appropriate fee to the California secretary of state's office. For same-sex couples, the state charges an additional fee to support anti-domestic-abuse efforts targeted to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities. As of 2010, the filing fee was $10, with a $23 surcharge for same-sex couples.
Domestic partnerships became legal in California in 1999; in the first decade, more than 50,000 couples registered partnerships, according to "The Wall Street Journal." California law says domestic partners have the "same rights, protections and benefits" as married couples, along with the same "responsibilities, obligations and duties." The law includes a few exceptions, such as eligibility for long-term care insurance for partners of state government employees.
If they meet certain conditions, couples who want to terminate their domestic partnership can do so by filing a form with the secretary of state's office. To go this route, they must not have been registered domestic partners for more than five years, they must not have any children, they must own no real estate and have only minimal shared assets, they must come to an agreement on the division of assets and each must waive the right to financial support from the other. Couples that don't meet these criteria must go to Superior Court to obtain an order dissolving the domestic partnership.
California voters approved a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in 2008. That amendment did not affect the domestic partnership system. And although California domestic partners cannot file joint federal tax returns as married couples do, the Internal Revenue Service ruled in 2010 that a couple's combined income is its "community property." For tax purposes, that means the partners must add their total income and each must declare half of the total on his individual income tax form.