If you have a committed partner, but do not want to marry, a Maryland domestic partnership attorney can help you formalize your relationship. At James E. Crawford, Jr. & Associates, we represent both same-sex and opposite-sex couples with domestic partnership issues. Our lawyers can help you draft a domestic partnership agreement, establish your partnership with the state, or help you end an existing partnership — learn more below.
What Is a Domestic Partnership?
A domestic partnership is a civil union that recognizes “mutual interdependence” between two, unmarried adults. In order to legally register a domestic partnership in Baltimore, Annapolis, Bel Air, and the rest of Maryland, you must:
- Provide proof that you are living together and mutually interdependent (such as proof of a joint bank account, mortgage, car loan, or shared insurance policies);
- File a domestic partnership affidavit with the state.
Both same-sex and opposite-sex couples can enter a domestic partnership.
While you do not need a domestic partnership attorney to file your affidavit, it’s typically in your best interests to consult with a lawyer. Domestic partnerships are a legal union involving specific rights, responsibilities, and risks. A lawyer can help you understand these issues — protecting both you and your loved ones.
What Are the Benefits of a Domestic Partnership?
Maryland’s domestic partnerships are similar to marriages but provide fewer legal rights. Once you successfully register your domestic partnership, you can:
- Add your partner to some employment-based insurance and benefits plans;
- Make decisions about your partner’s medical treatment and funeral arrangements;
- Avoid some state inheritance taxes;
- Visit your partner in a hospital or other medical facility;
- Share a room in a nursing home or other facility;
- Ride in an ambulance with your partner during a medical emergency;
- Have an organ donation priority.
However, Maryland’s domestic partnership laws do not address your right to property, alimony, child support, or child custody.
For this reason, partners should consider drafting a domestic partnership agreement. This agreement might:
- Grant your partner a financial power of attorney if you become incapacitated;
- Identify separate and shared property and assets;
- Address how you will divide your property if the relationship ends;
- Protect the interests of your dependents (such as children from another relationship).
In many ways, domestic partnerships are like prenuptial agreements. They involve a detailed analysis of your assets, property, and thoughtful discussion about your partner’s rights and responsibilities. Because this can be a sensitive issue, you and your partner should consider working with an experienced domestic partnership attorney. If you have questions about a domestic partnership agreement, contact us today for a consultation.
What Happens When Domestic Partners Separate?
To dissolve a Maryland domestic partnership, you must file a written certification with the state and notify your partner. As with any committed relationship, you must also divide shared property and debts and address child custody and child support obligations (if applicable). If you have a valid domestic partnership agreement, this document will help you resolve many of these issues.
Disputes can quickly arise during the dissolution of a domestic partnership. If you and your partner cannot agree on the terms of your separation, you might need to participate in alternative dispute resolution or a court hearing. Since issues can develop rapidly, it’s best to work with a domestic partnership attorney from the very beginning. Your lawyer can help you de-escalate tensions, negotiate the terms of your separation, and ensure that your rights are protected.
Same-Sex Marriage vs. Domestic Partnership
Prior to 2012, many Maryland same-sex couples entered domestic partnerships. When Maryland legalized same-sex marriage, some domestic partners decided to marry. There are significant benefits to marriage when compared to a domestic partnership. Married couples have the rights to:
- Marital property;
- Spousal support or alimony;
- Child custody and visitation (for children arising out of the marriage);
- Social Security, VA, and pension benefits through your spouse;
- Full inheritance rights;
- The ability to sponsor your spouse for immigration purposes (if he or she is a foreign national).
Additionally, not all states recognize domestic partnerships. If you or your partner move out-of-state, this might complicate your legal rights. Valid marriages are recognized in all states, regardless of the couple’s genders or sexual orientation.
Now that Maryland permits same-sex marriage, many employers (including the State of Maryland) no longer offer all employment-based benefits to domestic partners. For this reason, many people believe that domestic partnership is quickly becoming obsolete. However, not all couples are interested in marriage. If you need help assessing the advantages and disadvantages of marriage, contact a domestic partnership attorney for more information.
Consult with a Maryland Domestic Partnership Attorney
A domestic partnership attorney at James E. Crawford, Jr. & Associates can answer your questions about Maryland domestic partnership law and how it could impact your relationship. We apply over two decades of family law experience, ensuring that you and your partner’s interests are fully protected. We also help couples dissolve their partnerships and marriages. Contact us for a free and confidential evaluation.