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Civil Unions vs Domestic Partnerships

Civil unions vs. domestic partnerships

Civil unions and domestic partnerships have been popular alternatives to marriage for the past decade, especially for same-sex relationships. With the 2015 US Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in all US states, these relationships are still part of the laws in at least a dozen states.

Just as with many laws, those related to civil unions and domestic partnerships vary in the states that still permit and recognize them. For instance, some require couples to be same-sex while others permit heterosexual couples as well. Furthermore, some states (such as California) require domestic partners to file joint taxes for state purposes (regardless of their federal tax filing).

So, when everything is sorted out, what are the differences between these two alternatives to marriage?

Here are some general differences:

  • Civil unions are known as ‘registered’ or ‘civil’ partnerships, whereas domestic partnerships are situations where partners share a domestic life.
  • Civil unions are legally recognized and similar to marriage, whereas domestic partnerships are generally a legal status not similar to marriage.
  • Civil unions are afforded many state benefits afforded to married couples, whereas benefits afforded to domestic partnerships are generally considerably less. Some benefits include: child support, state-tax benefits, co-parenting and more.  
  • Civil unions have been declared to be converted to same-sex marriage, whereas domestic partnerships have not.
  • Civil unions are recognized in 6 states, whereas domestic partnerships are recognized in 11.
  • When it comes to state benefits, those commonly afforded to civil unions include same tax benefits, child and spousal support, medical decisions, health insurance, joint credit, inheritance, co-parenting, and state-level spousal rights. Domestic partnerships, on the other hand, share far fewer with marriage, including right to make medical decisions, common residence, stepparent adoption, health care coverage and inheritance.

It is important to remember that the laws and benefits of civil unions and domestic partnerships will vary among the states that recognize them. If you are considering entering into either of these alternative relationships, be sure to check with your local and state laws.