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Is Dissolution of a Domestic Partnership the Same as Divorce?


California gives same sex couples the option to marry or register a domestic partnership. If they decide to split, the legal steps to end the union are similar.

What Is a Domestic Partnership?

California law defines domestic partnership as “two adults who have chosen to share one another’s lives in an intimate and committed relationship of mutual caring.” When the domestic partnership was recognized in the state in 1999, the status was reserved for same sex couples.

When a U.S. Supreme Court ruling made same sex marriage legal in all 50 states, some states with domestic partnerships eliminated it and transitioned all partnerships to marriages. California chose to keep two separate legal statuses. In 2019, the law was amended to allow all opposite-sex couples to also choose domestic partnerships instead of marriage. The law went into effect in 2020.

Domestic partnerships enjoy many of the benefits of marriage except for the following:

  • They cannot file joint taxes.
  • They cannot transfer unlimited assets without being taxed.
  • They are not entitled to their partner’s Social Security benefits.
  • They are not automatically the beneficiary of the deceased partner’s estate.
  • They do not have equal property division if they separate.

Not all states or countries recognize domestic partnerships.

Domestic partnerships can be terminated, dissolved, or nullified. Couples with this legal status can also legally separate.

Notice of Termination of Domestic Partnership

Domestic partners who qualify may use the Notice of Termination of Domestic Partnership to legally end their relationship. This method is ideal for couples in agreement about ending the partnership and having little joint property or children.

The Notice of Termination of Domestic Partnership can be used if the partners meet the following criteria:

  • Both parties want to end the domestic partnership
  • The domestic partnership lasted 5 years or less
  • Neither partner is pregnant
  • No children were born or adopted during the relationship
  • They do not rent or own any land or buildings other than their current home
  • Not including vehicle loans, they do not have more than $6,000 in debts
  • Not including vehicle loans, they acquired less than $47,000 in property
  • Neither partner is seeking financial support from the other
  • Both partners sign an agreement that they have divided any property or debt and nothing else needs to be divided

This legal filing is with the Secretary of State, not the Superior Court. The domestic partnership will terminate 6 months after the date the Notice of Termination of Domestic Partnership is filed with the California Secretary of State.

Petition for Dissolution of Domestic Partnership

When domestic partners do not meet the strict requirements for termination, they must follow a process similar to married couples. One partner must file the Petition for Dissolution with the Superior Court. The other partner is served, and they have 30 days to respond to the filing. The couple can use alternative dispute resolution methods like mediation, but they also have the right to a court hearing in front of a judge.

Domestic partners using the Petition for Dissolution resolve the same issues as a divorce:

A court judgment dissolves the domestic partnership. Both partners are returned to the status of unpartnered persons.

Dissolution of domestic partnership takes at least 6 months. Depending on the complexity of the case, dissolution can take up to a year or longer.

Petition for Judgment of Nullity of Domestic Partnership

The Petition for Judgment of Nullity of Domestic Partnership is analogous to annulment. If the court issues the judgment, the domestic partnership is considered invalid or void. The court will also decide custody of any minor children and divide obligations and debts. The court may also order one person to pay support to the other.

A domestic partnership is void (never valid) in cases of incest or bigamy. Additional grounds to find a domestic partnership voidable include the following:

  • A partner was underage at the time of registration
  • A partner has an existing marriage or partnership
  • A partner was of unsound mind and could not consent
  • One partner used force against the other to create the partnership
  • One partner was fraudulent in convincing the other to agree to the partnership
  • A partner has a physical incapacity unknown to the other partner

There is no specific timeframe in which the court must determine whether to issue a Judgment of Nullity.

Rely on Skilled Legal Counsel to End a Domestic Partnership

Ending a domestic partnership is often as complicated, emotional, and stressful as ending a marriage. When your partnership is no longer viable, you need an experienced lawyer to guide you through the process of termination, dissolution, or nullity.

At Gille Kaye Law Group, PC, we provide a compassionate and targeted legal strategy for same sex couples facing family law issues. Schedule a consultation to discuss your case by calling (626) 340-0955 or reaching out online.

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