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Last Updated on: 28th July 2023, 07:15 pm
In New York, unmarried couples have two options for legally recognizing their relationship – domestic partnership or marriage. While these statuses share some similarities, there are important distinctions regarding eligibility, registration, benefits, rights, and dissolution. Understanding the key differences is critical when deciding which option best suits your needs.
In order to register as domestic partners in New York, both individuals must be 18 years of age or older and unmarried. The partnership is open to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. Registration simply involves submitting an Affidavit of Domestic Partnership to the county clerk where you live and paying a $30 fee.
Marriage in New York has no residency requirements or waiting periods. Same-sex and opposite-sex couples can marry, as long as both partners are 18 or have parental consent and are unmarried. Getting married requires applying for a marriage license and having the marriage solemnized.
Some rights are similar between marriage and domestic partnership. Both allow couples to make emergency medical decisions for an incapacitated partner. Both also allow one partner to consent to autopsies and organ donations after the other partner’s death.
However, more than 1,300 rights and responsibilities are granted exclusively through marriage that domestic partners do not receive. Major differences include:
– Joint adoption and foster parenting
– Joint housing leases without income requirements
– Access to spousal benefits programs like pensions, retirement plans, and Social Security
– Automatic rights of inheritance if one spouse dies without a will
– Joint parenting rights – domestic partners are legal strangers to their partner’s children
– Income tax deductions and exemptions
– Crime victim’s recovery benefits
– Bereavement leave rights under employment policies
– Divorce protections for equitable distribution of assets
A major disparity between domestic partnership versus marriage involves benefits eligibility. Under New York law, domestic partners are ineligible for most spousal benefits programs.
Some key benefits differences:
– Health insurance – Employers that cover spousal benefits are not mandated to extend benefits to domestic partners, although some choose to do so. With marriage, a spouse qualifies immediately for health benefits.
– Family medical leave – Spouses qualify while domestic partners do not.
– Bereavement leave – Spouses qualify while domestic partners do not.
– Public employee benefits – Spouses qualify while domestic partners do not.
– Income tax – Spouses file joint returns. Domestic partners don’t qualify for tax benefits like spousal IRAs.
– Estate taxes – Assets pass to spouses tax-free. Domestic partners could face estate taxes of up to 55%.
– Social Security – Spouses may qualify for benefits based on their partner’s work history. Domestic partners do not qualify for spousal Social Security benefits.
Unlike divorce, ending a domestic partnership simply involves filing a Termination of Domestic Partnership with the county clerk to be removed from the domestic partnership registry. This restores both parties to single status. No legal proceeding is required.
Marriage requires obtaining a divorce decree through the court system. Divorce court oversees property division, spousal support, child custody, and financial issues arising from the marriage being dissolved. The divorce process is typically more time consuming and complex compared to terminating a domestic partnership.
Domestic partners have zero legal relationship to their partner’s children and no rights or responsibilities of parenthood. The biological parent maintains full legal decision-making authority. A domestic partner cannot make medical decisions or act as a legal guardian for their partner’s child.
With marriage, the spouse takes on full legal parenting rights and obligations. The stepparent can share joint legal custody over stepchildren during the marriage, including responsibility for medical decisions and caretaking.
Property acquired during a domestic partnership is owned separately under each partner’s name. No special legal protections exist regarding division of property if the domestic partnership ends. This often necessitates creating legal contracts and documentation to manage property rights.
Being married triggers important New York property laws. Marital property, including assets purchased or income earned during marriage, is generally deemed jointly owned. Upon divorce, courts will divide marital property equitably between spouses under statute.
Domestic partners have no legal duty to provide financial support for their partner during or after the relationship ends. Unless a separate agreement is made, they do not qualify for alimony.
Spouses can be eligible for temporary spousal maintenance during separation or post-divorce alimony under New York statute. Courts determine support orders based on the spouses’ relative incomes and needs.
With no automatic inheritance rights, domestic partners should utilize carefully crafted wills, trusts, life insurance policies, and beneficiary designations to provide for their partner as intended. Specific estate planning is crucial to ensure assets transfer to a domestic partner.
Spouses do inherit from each other automatically according to New York intestacy laws if no will exists. They also qualify for elective share protections against disinheritance. Less intricate estate planning is needed between spouses.
Determining whether domestic partnership or marriage makes sense requires weighing your specific needs and situation. Speaking with an experienced New York family law attorney can provide guidance regarding the best legal structure for your relationship, children, and assets. They can ensure your rights are protected to the fullest extent possible.
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