Domestic Partnership

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December 8, 2010

Many people wonder what would happen if they simply do not marry their partners. By avoiding marriage, can one avoid the hassle of a divorce? While this may seem like a tempting proposition, there are legal implications you should consider.

Even if a couple never marries, either person may seek help from the state in dissolving the relationship. The person must show the intent of the couple, express or implied, to share assets or offer continued support. This is sometimes referred to as an “unregistered domestic partnership.” Oregon law allows same-sex couples to register domestic partnerships, and a registered domestic partnership comes with most of the same rights as marriage. Unlike a registered domestic partnership, an unregistered domestic partnership provides only the rights the couple expressly or implicitly agreed to provide.

An unregistered domestic partnership is by no means the same thing as a marriage. For marriages the court presumes property acquired during the marriage is joint; conversely, in an unregistered domestic partnership the court begins with the assumption that all property is separate. A partner must then prove the intent was to share property. For example, the partner might produce a written agreement between parties or show that the couple treated a house as joint property by both paying towards the mortgage.

Therefore, while a few marriage-like rights can be applied to unregistered domestic partnerships, be aware that there are many important rights that come only with marriage. For example, marriage gives partners the right to file joint federal taxes, collect a spouse’s social security under certain conditions, and receive continued support from a spouse in the case of unemployment or disability, among many others.

Your lawyer can help you foresee and avoid other pitfalls specific to your situation and discuss other options, such as executing a prenuptial agreement.