Same Sex and Opposite Sex Marriage v. Domestic Partnerships

Adult couples involved in romantic relationships in New York, whether opposite sex or same sex, now both have the option to choose to get married in New York or in certain localities enter into a domestic partnership. This blog article will highlight some of the benefits and differences with each. The Marriage Equality Act became law in New York in the summer of 2011 and allowed for gay or same sex marriages to be performed in this state. Prior to the passage of the law, New York recognized same sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions that legalized them, but would did not allow the marriages to take place here.

The Domestic Partnership laws are local laws in many various jurisdictions within New York. This law allows couples, depending on the locality in New York in which the couple works or resides, to register as a domestic partnership if they meet certain criteria. Some localities extend domestic partnerships to only same sex couples or to both opposite sex and gay couples. But, what are the differences between marriages and domestic partnerships?

Child custody and visitation rights is a big issue that differs according to whether someone is in an opposite sex, same sex marriage or domestic partnership in New York. Children born to married couples are presumed to be the children of each spouse. This presumption, however, is rebuttable in that courts have allowed paternity petitions and DNA tests to be ordered by someone claiming to be the biological father of a child born to a lesbian married couple. The presumption of legitimacy legal premise has been in flux for sometime now and with the advent of gay marriage it is still a developing area which we would be happy to discuss with anyone with questions about the topic. Domestic partners, however, do not have the right to seek custody or visitation of the biological children of their partners. Adoption is an option that can be explored by same sex couples and domestic partners, but the domestic partnership status does not confer any parental rights by itself.

Married couple have property rights in the assets acquired by each partner during the marriage (as long as it does fall under the separate property exceptions). If the marriage breaks up, marital property is subject to equitable distribution. The breaking of a domestic partnership, on the other hand, does not necessitate the distribution of property. By virtue of a domestic partnership alone, no rights are acquired in the property of their partners. Likewise, the debts of spouses might become those of their spouse, while the same would not be true just by virtue a domestic partnership. Domestic partners do not have the right to seek spousal support or maintenance which of course married partners can. Divorce is the process to dissolve a marriage in New York while the filing of an affidavit of termination is all that is required to end a domestic partnership.

Domestic partners might be able to receive health care coverage under their partner’s plans (depending on the health plans and the local laws) as married couples are able to obtain. Domestic partners, though, might have income tax consequences by being on their partner’s plan which would not be the case for married couples. Check with your tax professional on this issue to clarify whether the value of the benefit of being on the partners plan would be considered taxable income or not. Other tax differences would be that married couples can file taxes jointly which is not an option available to domestic partners.

Some common additional benefits available to domestic partners might be the ability to stay in a “rent controlled” apartment or to visit a partner at a hospital or jail. These benefits are also available to legally married couples. Domestic partners of New York City firemen, police and corrections officers might be able to seek financial awards from the City.

Certain localities within Nassau County Long Island do allow for domestic partnerships and Suffolk County Long Island has a domestic partnership registry. The Suffolk County law regarding domestic partnerships requires that to register as a domestic partnership the couple must have: both as residents of Suffolk County or one is employed by the County; both partners being eighteen years or older and competent to be able to bind themselves legally; both not married to anyone else or in another domestic partnership currently or within the six months before the registration; the couple cannot be blood relatives that would prevent them from being married in New York; been in a close relationship and lived together for one year or more continuously; executed the required affidavits; and submit at least two specified documents proving financial interdependence.

Please see our other blog entries and WebPages for more information about various matrimonial and family law topics. Feel free to call to speak about your free consultation. We would welcome hearing from you.

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