Registered domestic partners have the same rights as married couples when it comes to community property. Unless couples establish an agreement prior to their registration, community property rules will apply in the event of dissolution or death.
In California, a domestic partnership gives parties a legal status that is similar to marriage. As such, those parties involved in a domestic partnership have certain legal rights afforded to couples who are married, including community property rights. In a registered domestic partnership, community property is generally regarded as the property acquired by either partner during the period of the registered domestic partnership. This means that all income, assets and savings acquired after registration was filed and all assets accumulated from earned income are considered to be equally owned and, therefore, community property. This is regardless of titling of deed, asset, or account.
Under California’s Domestic Partner Rights and Responsibilities Act of 2003 community property concepts apply to property rights, but not for tax purposes. In the event that the domestic partnership is dissolved or a death occurs, each partner would automatically be entitled to a half interest in any property that was purchased during the time of the registered partnership. However, if one partner dies, community property concepts will not be used in order to determine the size of the decedent’s estate. If the partnership is simply dissolved, the community property would be divided equally between partners, and they would have the right to use the state court system in order to properly divide their assets.
If couples are not registered as domestic partners, then they do not have any community property rights. All pre-registration assets and gifts or inheritances received at any time during the registered partnership are presumed to be separately owned.
Community property rights will also not apply if registered partners have prepared a Domestic Partnership Agreement that outlines how assets, debts, and property are to be distributed in the event of a separation. This agreement provides both partners with legal protections should either party ever decide to end the relationship. It can also help couples avoid the effects of certain domestic partnership laws that can be disadvantageous to them.
If you are considering dissolving a domestic partnership or would like to establish a Domestic Partnership Agreement, you should consult with an experienced California attorney who can help you navigate these difficult, complex legal processes.