Marriage Vs. Domestic Partnership: The Definition, Insight, And Difference

Marriage Vs. Domestic Partnership; Which One to Choose? All The Insights are Here! Marriage is a beautiful relationship, and over the course of time, our understanding of marriage has evolved a lot. With due time, the definition of marriage has changed, and with all the different laws being implemented over the course of time, some other concepts have emerged as well.

One such concept is a domestic partnership which sits very close to marriage, but there are some significant differences as well. On the surface, the basic idea may look similar, but when we delve deeper, the differences reveal themselves. But how do you define domestic partnership, and how is it different from your regular marriage? Well, this is what this post aims to clarify. Here, we will be looking at the definition of domestic partnership and try to understand how it is different from marriage from the point of view of various fundamental aspects. So, let’s get started.

How Do You Define Marriage?

Well, marriage may have a philosophical definition as well, where many authors and philosophers expressed their opinion about how marriage is nothing but the union of two souls who agrees to accept each other in every situation and in every way. When you involve the religion and caste angle in it, the whole thing boils down to something different. However, the basic understanding remains the same. 

marriage vs domestic partnership definition insight difference

If, however, we are talking about marriage in legal terms, then the definition should be something like this;

Marriage is the legally and formally recognized union between two people who are involved as a partner in a personal relationship. 

  • If you consider it historically, then this union suggests only a union between a man and a woman. As far as the law is concerned, it is still the same in some parts of the world. 
  • However, with the same-s*x marriage law being implemented in various countries of the world, this legal and formal union can happen between two men or two women as well.

So, how it is different from the domestic partnership? Well, let’s look at the definition of the domestic partnership first to understand it better.

How Do You Define Domestic Partnership?

First of all, the domestic partnership should be considered an agreement. This is the first and the foremost difference between marriage and this is something we need to understand clearly. We can use the word “union” here, but we can only use the word “agreement”. Keeping that in mind, the definition can be something like this

A domestic partnership is an agreement between two people who agrees to live together being a part of a romantic partnership. 

Since marriage or the concept of marriage is out of the equation here, some also call this agreement a Domestic Partnership Agreement or a Cohabitation Agreement.

But this is where things get interesting!

  • The label of the Cohabitation Agreement is much more than what it sounds like. This is not your average romantic contract that couples can easily establish between themselves without involving anyone else when they are in a live-in relationship.
  • The Cohabitation agreement comes with the power of establishing each of the partner’s fundamental rights and other obligations concerning finances and the acquirement of assets during the time they are in this agreement.

So, if you are thinking about an alternative to the whole concept of marriage, then this is as close as you get. The idea of this agreement came into existence in the early 80s. It was propelled due to the problems LGBT couples were facing around that time as there was no law-abiding they could marry their partners legally. But with this cohabitation agreement in place, such couples had the chance to exercise almost all the rights and privileges just like that a married couple. 

But how does it work?

  • To make the domestic partnership work for you, one has to do registration with the government. This would help them formulate a sort of legal and formal relationship in the eyes of the law.
  • This registration entitles the couples to certain rights much similar to that of marriage. 
  • The said benefits can include a property settlement and some benefits of pension or assets after the death of one partner. These benefits can also be availed in case of separation. 
  • Although you do get to enjoy a lot of marriage-like facilities, and by all means, it is better than any common-law marriage. But you need to understand you will not get all the marriage rights. 

Who Can Engage Themselves as Domestic Partners?

As I have mentioned before, this concept of having a domestic partner started to get the wind during the 1980s when LGBT couples wanted to get married and stay clean in the eyes of the law ever since this cohabitation agreement became a go-to option for same-s*x couples, who wanted to stay together and enjoy some of the marriage-like benefits yet never actually get marriage at all. 

The first state in the world to ever actually accept and offer domestic partnership was Vermont. And then it moved from there to other cities. However, one thing you need to keep in mind is that no matter where it is, this kind of marriage is never partnership or “union” is never federally recognized. There are some states and countries around the world that still allows and offers this kind of cohabitation agreement, and there you can see the following features:

  • The partners of this agreement, be it heteros*xual or homos*xual, are always committed to each other, and they stay together in the same house.
  • The pattern of the relationship is very much like a marriage, yet it is just an agreement as it is not federally approved. 
  • Sometimes the couples in this cohabitation agreement can also be financially dependent on each other and can also raise children together. 

Do you wish to enter a similar kind of relationship? 

Well, then the first step would be to register the relationship with the government so that it can be considered a valid one in the eyes of the law. 

  • To get things going in that, reach out to an employer or visit the directly the relevant office of your local or state government. 
  • There, you would be you would have to fill out an application. The funny part is that here also, you would need to do it in front of a witness and also have it notarized later. The process may look similar to that of a registered marriage.
  • To fill out this application, you would have to pay a fee. Also, you must know that this kind of agreement is not allowed in all the states. So, before you go for filling out the form, make sure to do thorough research on your state and check out all the possible laws by which you can have a residence together with your partner. Knowing all the rules will help you get it done easily. 
  • You will also need an attorney if you are not able to understand the laws regarding domestic partnerships implacable in your state. A clear understanding of this matter is necessary, as, without that, you will not be able to fill out the form.
  • Before choosing the attorney, you need to be careful as well because there are some websites out there as well. These websites will allow you and your partner to complete the agreement for domestic by using the templates available on their site. 
  • By availing of this, you can actually put intention to words and why you wish to be a part of this agreement and also understand the rights you are entitled to.

Marriage and Domestic Partnership; the Difference In Fundamental Rights

As I had mentioned above. Even when you are in a domestic partnership, you would still be entitled to certain fundamental rights. Of course, they would seem like that of marriage, but they are actually a bit different. With marriage, the number of legal rights you would enjoy concerning social security and another kind of protection would be much more than a cohabitation agreement. But there are other aspects as well, and the more you would consider them, you would find that these two concepts are kind of incomparable to each other, but they are surely very closely related. 

Some of the Common Benefits Between These Two Concepts

Like, As I have said, these two concepts are very closely related to each other, and thus they share some benefits as well. 

  • For starters, for decades now, many people are considering the cohabitation agreement as nothing but an alternative to marriage. 
  • Another great benefit of this agreement which puts this in the same league as marriage is that when inside this agreement, one partner can avail of the other partner’s health insurance benefits that he/she might from his/her respective employer. 
  • When inside the agreement of a domestic relationship, one can also enjoy the rights regarding child care and custody if such a situation ever occurs. 
  • In this relationship, the couples can adopt the child they have with their spouse and still raise the child with the new partner in this cohabitation agreement. 
  • There are states in the world where domestic partners can enjoy laws that allow them to take bereavement leaves in case one of them passes away. Also, if their partner is sick, they can ask for sick leaves in their professional organization. 
  • This agreement also comes with hospital and visitation rights, and both partners can leave the right to make medical decisions for each other to each other. This is something very commonly seen in marriage, and in this agreement also, one partner can work as the authorized signatory for any medical decision.

What About the Legal Benefits do You Get with Each of This Partnership?

In the first part, we have discussed the similar kind of benefits you get in both these arrangements. But there are some great differences between them as well, especially in regard to the legal aspect. While marriage will always offer you a number of other advantages compared to a cohabitation agreement, there are a number of benefits that are absolutely exclusive to domestic partnerships. But what are they exactly?

A domestic partnership offers some exclusive benefits like availing the medical insurance provider by the employer of his/her partner. However, the financial benefits it enjoys otherwise are starkly different from that of marriage benefits. Let’s look at some of them one by one:

  • The tax bracket is a very interesting aspect in this case. When you are married, there is a law for which you will be put inside a higher bracket of taxpayers if the situation is such. However, when you are in a cohabitation agreement, such a law will not be applicable to either of the couple.
  • Similarly, either of the couples will not have any right to the personal possession or assent of his/her deceased partner. But if you are married, then you can claim the right to own your spouse’s possession.
  • When you are married, there are some great financial perks offered by the state, such as retirement plans and other social security benefits. However, none of this will be applicable when you are in the cohabitation agreement. This is something absolutely exclusive to married couples.
  • The benefits and rights you get to enjoy in the cohabitation agreement are very less than what you can enjoy while being married. When you are married, you will get to transfer an almost unlimited amount of assets to your spouse while paying little to no tax. Similarly, if you are ever divorced from your married spouse, you will enjoy the right to contest and divide the assets accordingly between the partners. This is something you can never even imagine in the cohabitation agreement.

Some Benefits One Can Only Enjoy In Domestic Partnerships

There are always two sides to any story. While one thing might look like a disadvantage but for someone else, it might actually be an advantage. The same can be said for the cohabitation partnership. If you look at it from a different angle, then some of the advantages enjoyed exclusively by married couples can sometimes pose a problem to couples in a domestic partnership. Allow me to try and explain this aspect a bit:

  • As I have mentioned in the previous segment that only married couples enjoy the placement in the higher tax bracket, but this might not be very much desirable for some people. Hence, if they are in the cohabitation agreement, it becomes an exclusive benefit to avoid the tax penalty and also avoid being placed in the higher tax bracket.
  • Compared to married couples, couples living in domestic relationships can save a lot of money in taxes. As this agreement is never federally recognized, couples living in a cohabitation agreement can easily file their tax forms separately.
  • Being a married couple, both of them need to file their tax forms together, and while doing so, they are subject to some tax breaks as well. But the couple’s domestic relationship can still avoid the tax penalty.
  • There are some countries where same-s*x marriage has still not been made legal. In such countries, same-s*x couples, like LGBTQ couples, can apply for a cohabitation partnership and can still be together. It allows them to flourish and nurture their love and togetherness. It is indeed one of the benefits absolutely exclusive to domestic partners.

Some Benefits One Can Only Enjoy In Marriage

No matter how many benefits the domestic partnership offers, no one can deny that one gets to enjoy the kinds of benefits in the marriage that we can never imagine with a cohabitation agreement. But what are they? Let’s look at them:

  • When it comes to legal rights, we cannot even compare domestic relationships with marriage. More than one amazing legal benefit gets bestowed on the married couple. A married couple can easily claim all the possessions of their deceased partner and also enjoy other state-provided benefits like Social Security benefits and other monetary benefits being a partner to veterans or post-retirement.
  • We never know when a financial crisis might strike us. So, when a married couple goes through a situation like this, he/she can easily receive financial support from the other, and they have such provision in the law. Even after they get divorced, the law allows them to divide the asset as well. 
  • Sometimes, we get the chance to leave the place we live in for some other country. In such a scenario, one spouse can offer financial help for the immigration as well. The law permits that as well. But these things cannot be imagined in a domestic relationship. 
  • Transferring one’s asset to another is a tricky thing and includes a number of legal injunctions. But when you are married, one can easily do that with the help of an attorney, and the best part is that either of them will not have to pay any kind of tax penalty to complete the process. This is impossible and almost unthinkable when you are in a cohabitation agreement.

What Are the Limits to a Cohabitation Agreement?

Every union has some kind of limitation, and the same can be said for the cohabitation agreement. This is what we are going to look at now. 

We are now towards the end of the post, and by now, I believe, you have already understood that in comparison to federally recognized marriage, the domestic partnership or cohabitation agreement can never enjoy all the rights and benefits, especially the kind a married couple would enjoy. This fact has created a number of limitations to this arrangement. Some of them are;

  • The limitation has always created various debates over the years regarding gay marriage. And people have argued about many different ways to achieve a perfect model of same-s*x marriage for LGBTQ couples.
  • Another great limitation is regarding the question of insurance. This is something absolutely different between domestic couples and married couples. When you are in a cohabitation agreement, you must check the insurance coverage of your partner. If it is not so high, then the other partner might also get very low insurance coverage. As a result, when applying for medical care, one has to push the limits of their budget for medical expenses.
  • Being in a domestic partnership, you are compelled to file your tax forms separately, which is so unlike married couples. Since you are filing the tax forms separately, you will never be able to avail the law-permitted tax deductions and other tax savings methods that married couples often enjoy. 
  • When you are in a cohabitation agreement, one of the partners is allowed to adopt the child the other partner might have from his/her previous marriage. But things will not be so simple. Because in order to complete the process, the biological parent of the child must be convinced to surrender his/her parental right over the child before the adoption process happens. This is something that can pose a problem in reality.

What Remains

Now, the only question remains is that whether you should get married or just opt for a domestic partnership? Well, this is a big decision that every couple should take after due consideration. It is not something you can take overnight, and for that, both the partners should consider all the aspects I have mentioned above about both kinds of arrangements.

You should consider the state of your relationship as well. I mean, marriage is a federally recognized union, and that’s why you need to be committed to it as well and respect all the implications it will have on your life. So, you need to be very serious if you wish to get married. Also, if you belong to the LGBTQ community, then the cohabitation agreement is perhaps the best choice you have to be your lover if your state is yet to legally recognize same-s*x marriage.  But this kind of union will also have some rules and regulations about which you need to be aware. So, what do you think about this? Leave your comments in the space below.


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