What is a “domestic partnership” and who is eligible to form one?

Domestic partnership” is a marriage-like legal status created by the WA legislature in 2007. Prior to December 6, 2012, domestic partnerships could be formed either by same sex couples or by (same or different sex) couples if at least one of them is 62 or older.  After December 6, 2012, domestic partnership registration is still available for (both opposite and same sex) couples including a partner at least 62 years old.  However, domestic partnership registration is no longer available for same sex couples if both are under age 62.

Why are same sex couples under 62 no longer allowed to register “domestic partnerships” in Washington?

As of December 6, 2012, same sex marriage is lawful under Washington law.  Thus, since the “domestic partnership” registration was intended by the legislature to provide marriage-like recognition of couples who could not (because of gender) marry no further need for same-sex under-62 “domestic partnership” remained.

What happens to an ongoing Washington “domestic partnership” 

registered prior to December 6, 2012 after that date?

Same-sex under 62:  Domestic partnerships registered prior to December 6, 2012 will continue in full force and effect until June 30, 2014 after which, unless the partnership has been dissolved by the parties’ filing of a notice of termination with the Secretary of State or if a decree of dissolution has been made or is pending on the petition of either partner, the pre-existing “domestic partnership” will be automatically converted to the status of marriage.  The effective “marriage” date will be the date the domestic partnership was registered unless before June 30, 2014, the partners have either terminated the partnership, or obtained a marriage license and married in which case, the marriage date would be the date the marriage was solemnized.

Couples over 62:  Domestic partnerships will remain after December 6, 2012.   (These partners remain free to select marriage in lieu of registered domestic partnership if they choose to marry and may terminate the registered domestic partnership voluntarily or by court decree of dissolution).

How is a domestic partnership created?

Domestic partnerships are created by an eligible couple registering the partnership with the Washington Secretary of State using forms created by the Secretary.  RCW 43.07.400.   Eligible couples are those in a marriage-like relationship with at least one of the two aged 62 or older.

Can domestic partnerships be dissolved without court intervention?

Yes, if certain conditions are met.  RCW 26.60.055.  The conditions include that the couple owns no real estate, the partnership has been registered less than five years, the partners do not have debt in excess of $4,000 (as adjusted every other year) and the “community property” assets (also adjusted every other year) do not exceed $25,000 and neither partner is pregnant, has dependent children or seeks maintenance and the partners have both signed and registered a notice of termination.

How are domestic partnerships dissolved if the “termination conditions” are not met?

If either partner wants the court to intervene, or if voluntary termination “conditions” are not met, the partnership will be terminated by the court on petition of either party.  The court would resolve all issues the parties themselves cannot agree upon, applying the court’s basic trial and other procedure and law applicable to divorce.  RCW 26.60.055 and 26.09.

What are the rights of people in committed relationships that have not been registered as a “domestic partnership” nor married?

Different and same sex couples who are terminating a stable, long term relationship may petition the court to decide how their joint property and debts should be divided. Spousal maintenance is not available to unmarried parties who are not state-registered partners.  Either parent of a child, regardless of whether they have ever lived together, may petition the court to determine the child’s support and contact with each parent.  The court will apply the same rules to child issues as it does to married couples seeking divorce.  In general, property issues will be determined as though the couple had been married during the time they lived together as though married.