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How ending a California domestic partnership compares to divorce

Making the decision to spend the rest of your life committed to a person you love can be very exciting. This phase in life is filled with happiness and exhilaration about the future. Ideally, all the hopes and dreams a couple have will come true. Unfortunately, sometimes feelings change and people have to make the difficult decision to go their separate ways.

Same-sex couples and a very small group of opposite-sex couples are legally permitted to register as domestic partners in California. Parties to a domestic partnership have the same obligations and rights as spouses in a marriage; however, just as the two unions are formed in different ways, marriages and domestic partnerships are also dissolved in different ways.

Married couples seeking to end their union will file for divorce. Parties in domestic partnerships will have to seek one of two alternative options to a traditional divorce. We recently published an article of dissolution of domestic partnerships in California. As detailed in the article, domestic partnerships are terminated in one of the following ways: 

  • Filing a "Notice of Termination of Domestic Partnership"
  • Filing for dissolution with the state courts

The appropriate method will depend on a number of factors, including how long a couple has been in the partnership, how many children are involved and whether domestic partner support is being requested. In addition, couples who have both registered as domestic partners and entered into marriage must dissolve each union separately- dissolution of marriage does not end the domestic partnership nor does dissolution of domestic partnership terminate a marriage.

The procedural steps to obtaining dissolution of domestic partnership are different than the steps for obtaining dissolution of marriage but the resolutions are quite similar. Both require the parties to settle issues such as property division and child support. Wrangling with these important issues can cause significant emotional and financial challenges for the people involved.

While there are similarities between dissolution of marriage and dissolution of domestic partnership, key differences exist which must be recognized and addressed. Working through this process with an attorney who is familiar with domestic partnership laws in California can be a very effective way to avoid costly errors and pursue the best possible outcome for everyone involved.

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