Terminating a Domestic Partnership or Civil Union

When a domestic partnership or civil union ends, the parties face a challenge of untangling their lives and ending their cohabitation. Even though not considered by some a "traditional" union, the ending of a civil union comes with all the traditional complexities.

Once a domestic partnership ends, one cannot simply kick out the other person and move on. A domestic partnership not only means that the partners enjoy many of the rights and privileges of traditional marriage, but also the protections. Except for very limited situations, the termination is much like dissolution of a marriage (i.e. a divorce proceeding).

Proceedings to Dissolve a Domestic Partnership

Like a traditional marriage, a domestic partnership is a legal union that can only be dissolved through a legal proceeding. Similar steps are involved in dissolving a partnership as in dissolving a marriage.

In California, for example, a proceeding for termination is commenced by filing the exact same petition that is used when a spouse wishes to end a marriage. Similar to a divorce action, the petition may seek dissolution, legal separation or nullity.

Even though the general procedures are similar, the remedies are slightly different. For example, even in a community property state, property acquired during the relationship may not be treated as community property in terms of dividing assets obtained during the marriage.

Division of Property and Assets

In the dissolution of a domestic partnership, the interest in assets jointly acquired during the marriage are divided according to the proportion of interest of each partner at the time the property was acquired. For example, if you and your partner purchased a car during your partnership, and you paid for 20% of the car, you would only be entitled to 20% of the car when the relationship is dissolved.

The exception is an express agreement in writing signed by both parties. If the parties acquired a house during the partnership, the family court can make orders regarding temporary possession of the residence and ultimately decide who the residence is awarded to in the judgment. One partner will probably have to buy out any interest the other person was to have acquired. The house is typically awarded to the party that buys the other out.

Expedited Proceedings

If a domestic partnership is brief with little accumulation of assets or debts and no minor children, expedited summary termination procedures are available. The domestic partnership can be terminated by simply filing a Notice of Termination of Domestic Partnership if the following conditions are met: (1) the couple has no minor children of the relationship; (2) neither partner has an ownership interest in real estate, long term lease or option to purchase; (3) no debts in excess of $4000; (4) neither the jointly held assets or either parties total assets exceed $25,000; (5) the parties have an agreement to divide their joint assets and waive spousal support.

The domestic partnership does not need to be subject to the jurisdiction of family court if all of these criteria are met. The parties simply file a Notice of Termination of Domestic Partnership and the union is dissolved.

Keep in mind, however, that family law is state specific. Many states do not recognize domestic partnerships or civil unions. If you relocate to one of these states, your dissolution options may be significantly limited, and possibly eliminated. If you are considering relocation and dissolution at the same time, discuss your options with a family law attorney before you relocate.