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Domestic Partnerships in GA

Domestic Partnerships in GA: Is filing for divorce different?

A domestic partnership is an alternative legal arrangement between either same-sex or opposite-sex partners in Georgia. While a domestic partnership provides for some of the benefits of traditional marriage, it differs in many important ways.

Perhaps most importantly, the termination of a domestic partnership does not follow the traditional rules of divorce.

In this article, the team of family law attorneys at Fennell, Briasco & Associates™ explains everything you need to know about ending a domestic partnership in Georgia.

There is no statewide Georgia law that governs domestic partnerships. Instead, only some Georgia cities and counties have ordinances for establishing and governing domestic partnerships. For example, couples may register for domestic partnerships in the following jurisdictions:

  • Fulton County and the City of Atlanta (see Atlanta Code of Ordinances Sec. 94-131)
  • DeKalb County (see DeKalb County Code of Ordinances Sec. 20-202)
  • Athens-Clarke County (see Athens-Clarke County Code of Ordinances Sec. 1-23-3)
  • Doraville (see Doraville Code of Ordinances Sec. 2-253)
  • East Point (see East Point Code of Ordinances Sec. 4-6004)

How to Establish a Domestic Partnership?

Under Atlanta’s municipal ordinances, a domestic partnership is defined as a non-marital relationship in which “two people agree to be jointly responsible for the necessities of life incurred during the domestic partnership…[and] who live together in the mutual interdependence of a single home.” See Atlanta Code of Ordinances Sec. 94-131.

To establish a domestic partnership, the couple must meet the following criteria:
(1) the partners must live in the same primary residence for at least the past six months, with supporting documentation;
(2) the partners must demonstrate that they share a committed personal relationship that they intend to be lifelong;
(3) neither partner may have an existing marriage or domestic partnership;
(4) each partner must be at least 18 years of age and competent to enter into a contract;
(5) the partners may not be related by blood, and
(6) the partners must agree to be jointly responsible for the necessities of daily life of the domestic partnership, including, for example, the cost of basic food, shelter, clothing, and medical care. See City of Atlanta v. McKinney, Supreme Court of Georgia (1995).

The partners must then present a form of identification and file a Declaration of Domestic Partnership Affidavit with the Office of Constituent Services.

Advantages vs. Disadvantages of Domestic Partnerships

For any number of reasons, some couples may prefer not to enter into a formalized marriage.

There may be economic, social, religious, or other legitimate grounds that partners take into consideration when choosing to form a domestic partnership rather than a marriage. A domestic partnership comes with some, but not all, of the advantages of traditional marriage.

For example, domestic partnership law usually allows a partner to (a) receive health insurance benefits from their partner’s policy, (b) use sick leave or medical leave to care for the partner’s health or the health of the partner’s children, (c) receive life insurance or death benefits from a partner’s policy, (d) coordinate medical decisions on behalf of the domestic partner, and (e) seek visitation rights if the other partner is incarcerated or hospitalized.

However, a domestic partnership does not come with all the perks of a legal marriage in Georgia.

Here are some of the key differences between domestic partnerships and marriages:

  • Inheritance: A domestic partnership does not entitle either partner to inheritance rights in the event that either partner dies during the course of the domestic partnership.
  • Spousal Support or Marital Assets: In the event of separation, a domestic partnership does not allow either partner to petition a court for spousal support or alimony. Further, a domestic partner may not petition a court for a division of marital assets.
  • Immigration: Under U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) regulations, domestic partnerships are not recognized for the purpose of sponsoring immigration applications. Review more information on the USCIS website here.
  • Tax: Under IRS regulations, domestic partners may not file their federal income taxes as “married filing jointly” or “married filing separately.” Review more information on the IRS website here.

Please note that the laws related to domestic partnerships have changed significantly over the past decade. Since the pivotal 2015 decision by the Supreme Court of the United States to legalize same-sex marriage (see Obergefell v. Hodges), many states have changed their domestic partnership laws and policies. It is important to speak with an attorney to understand the facts of your situation, especially if your domestic partnership was registered in another state before moving to Georgia.

How to Terminate (or Dissolve) a Domestic Partnership?

Unlike the complicated procedures of divorce, terminating or dissolving a domestic partnership is relatively straightforward. According to an opinion from the Georgia Supreme Court, “termination of a domestic partnership is far easier to accomplish than the termination of a marriage.” See City of Atlanta v. McKinney, Supreme Court of Georgia (1995).

In most Georgia jurisdictions, a domestic partnership may be terminated in the following three ways:

  1. One partner provides written notice to the other partner stating that they wish to terminate the domestic partnership, and that notice of termination has filed in the county or city in which the domestic partnership was registered;
  2. Either partner dies; or
  3. The partners no longer meet any of the qualifications required to establish a domestic partnership (e.g., the domestic partners no longer share the same primary residence).

The effective date of a termination of a domestic partnership may be back-dated as to reflect the date that the domestic partnership became invalid. The partners must also provide a “notice of termination” to any interested third parties, like insurance companies or employers.

To understand your legal relationship and the rights and obligations that arise from it, we always recommend speaking with a licensed family law attorney. At Fennell, Briasco & Associates™, our team of family law attorneys has decades of combined experience working with Georgia families.

If you are currently in a domestic partnership and are evaluating your options for terminating the partnership, please contact us to schedule a FREE consultation with our team. Our attorneys will discuss the potential legal options that may be right for you. Call us today at (770) 956-4030.