In the ever-evolving landscape of family law, understanding the distinctions between dissolving a marriage and ending a Registered Domestic Partnership (RDP) is crucial for individuals navigating these personal and legal transitions. While both processes signify the end of a legally recognized relationship, they are governed by distinct sets of laws and regulations, especially in a state like California, known for its progressive stance on relationship recognition.
Whether you are in a domestic partnership or a marriage, understanding these differences is vital in making informed decisions and navigating the legal system with confidence and clarity.
The Differences Between Registered Domestic Partnerships and Marriage in California
In California, the concepts of registered domestic partnerships (RDPs) and marriage, while related to family law, have distinct legal characteristics and implications.
Registered domestic partnerships are legally recognized unions between two individuals, which grant rights and benefits similar to marriage. In California, this status is not limited to same-sex couples; heterosexual couples can also choose this option, even if they are not over the age of 62. This arrangement was originally designed to provide legal recognition to same-sex couples before the legalization of same-sex marriage.
To be eligible for an RDP, couples must share a common residence and not be married or part of another domestic partnership. The partnership is formalized through registration with the state.
Partners have many of the same rights as married couples, including property rights, the right to make medical decisions for each other, and certain tax benefits. However, there can be differences, especially when it comes to federal laws and benefits. RDPs are not federally recognized, so partners must still file federal taxes as single individuals. Furthermore, Social Security does not recognize RDPs, potentially preventing couples from accessing each other’s benefits.
Differences Between Dissolving RDPs and Getting Divorced
In California, the processes for ending a Registered Domestic Partnership (RDP) and getting a divorce share many similarities, particularly because California law affords significant rights and responsibilities to domestic partners that are similar to those of married couples.
Ending an RDP can be similar to divorce, including the division of property, determining spousal support, and arranging child custody and support. In certain cases, if the partnership is short-term (under five years), without children, shared property, or debts, it might be ended through a simpler process called a “summary dissolution.”
- Legal Filings and Proceedings: Both processes require legal filings with the court. The specific forms and procedures can vary slightly but generally follow similar paths, including the requirement for one party to serve the other with the dissolution paperwork.
- Federal Recognition: Even though California recognizes domestic partnerships similarly to marriages, the federal government does not. This affects federal taxes and some federal benefits. In contrast, federal recognition of marriage means that divorce also carries federal implications, such as for filing federal taxes and eligibility for federal benefits.
- Children and Custody: In both cases, issues related to children — including custody, visitation, and support — are handled in much the same way. The best interests of the children are the court’s primary concern.
- Community Property and Spousal Support: California is a community property state, meaning that in both RDP dissolutions and divorces, the property acquired during the union is generally divided equally. Similarly, spousal support can be ordered in both cases based on similar factors.
- Residency Requirements: There are no residency requirements in California to dissolve a domestic partnership. However, to get a divorce, at least one spouse must be a resident of California for six months and a resident of the county where the filing is made for three months before filing the divorce petition.
Eligibility for Summary Dissolution
In certain cases, partners may qualify for a simpler process called summary dissolution. To be eligible for summary dissolution, the partners must meet all of the following criteria:
- Duration: The partnership must have lasted less than five years.
- Children: The partners must not have had children together before or during the partnership, and neither partner can be pregnant.
- Property: The partners must not own any part of land or buildings.
- Rent: The place where they live must be rented, the lease must not include an option to purchase, and the lease term must be less than one year.
- Debts: The partners must not have incurred more than a specified amount in debts (excluding car loans) since the date of their partnership.
- Property and Assets: The total amount of property acquired during the partnership must be below a certain value, and neither partner can have separate property worth more than a specified amount.
- Written Agreement: The partners must have a signed agreement dividing their assets and debts, and both must waive any rights to partner support.
Standard Dissolution Process
If the relationship does not qualify for summary dissolution, or if one partner does not want to dissolve the partnership, the standard dissolution process is as follows:
- Filing a Petition: One partner must file a petition for dissolution with the court.
- Service of Process: The other partner must be formally notified of the dissolution petition.
- Response: The other partner has the opportunity to respond to the petition.
- Financial Disclosures: Both partners must disclose their financial assets and liabilities.
- Agreement or Mediation: The partners may negotiate a deal on the division of assets, debts, and other issues such as partner support. If they cannot agree, they may need mediation or a court hearing.
- Court Approval: The agreement or court decision must be approved by a judge. The court will issue a judgment dissolving the partnership.
Talk to Experienced Legal Counsel to End Your Relationship
It’s important to note that laws and legal processes can change, so it’s important to consult with a skilled attorney to receive the most current and personalized advice. At CC LawGroup, we have years of experience helping couples in marriages or registered domestic partnerships end their relationships efficiently and effectively. Schedule your consultation to discuss your needs and learn more about how we can help you.