Whether you’re married, you have a long-term partner or the only dates in your life are of the dried fruit variety, your relationship status can seriously affect your health care coverage.
Marriage comes with certain legal, tax and insurance advantages — but if you’re unmarried and have a partner, setting up a domestic partnership to have your relationship legally recognized can come with its own benefits.
If domestic partnership qualifications and guidelines sound like too much of an obstacle, keep reading. Here’s everything you need to know.
What Is a Domestic Partnership?
A domestic partnership involves two people who may live together or be in a long-term relationship but aren’t married or joined by a civil union. These partnerships apply equally to same-sex and heterosexual couples.
Domestic partnerships first emerged in the 1980s. New York newspaper the Village Voice became the first private employer to offer domestic partner benefits in 1982. A few years later, in 1989, San Francisco officials passed an ordinance that legally recognized domestic partners.
There’s no federal definition of domestic partnerships, which means that the rules and legal rights around them vary by city and state. However, as a general rule, a couple can be granted a domestic partnership if they:
Are both 18 or older.
Have lived together at least six months.
Are financially responsible for one another.
Aren’t currently married or in a domestic partnership or civil union with someone else.
You may choose to have your relationship recognized through a domestic partnership to obtain certain legal rights — think hospital visitation rights, the ability to serve as the health care proxy for your partner, the ability to take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the ability to receive health, dental and vision insurance coverage through your partner’s insurance.
If you meet these domestic partnership qualifications, you should be set to complete a domestic partnership form with your city or state registry and pay a filing fee to process your application. If you have questions about the process, contact your city clerk’s office or the office of the secretary of state to get the most detailed information.
How a Domestic Partnership Affects Your Health Insurance
Once you’ve gone through the legal process to establish a domestic partnership, you’ll need to go through a separate process at work to have your employer extend health insurance and other benefits to your partner.
Do your research, though. Those benefits only apply if your employer actually includes domestic partner coverage in their offerings, and less than half of employers currently do. The number of companies that offer these benefits dropped from 59% to 48% from 2014 to 2016, according to a 2017 study. In large part, this dip has to do with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 decision to legalize same-sex marriage: As more same-sex couples could now enjoy spousal insurance benefits, employers saw less of a need to offer insurance for domestic partners.
If your workplace is part of that 48%, you’ll probably need to provide proof of your domestic partnership so your partner can qualify for coverage. The documentation required varies by employer, but typically a company will want to see a partner affidavit that confirms that you meet certain eligibility requirements defined by the insurance company. You’ll also need your municipal and state domestic partnership registration.
It’s important to keep in mind that a portion of the health benefits your domestic partner receives will be taxed. Under federal law, neither your health insurance premium nor your spouse’s or dependents’ can be taxed, but the law doesn’t apply to domestic partners. You’ll have to pay income and Social Security taxes on the monthly insurance premium your employer pays for your partner.
The Importance of a Domestic Partnership
If you aren’t married yet or don’t plan to be, a domestic partnership can give your partner important benefits that they otherwise might not have access to. Before you make a decision, though, be sure that you understand what the process entails and how your state — and even more importantly, your employer — recognizes this arrangement.
Get ready to spend some time filling out forms. It won’t be the most exciting afternoon of your life, sure, but just think of what you gain from it. Getting your relationship legally recognized could end up being a deal as sweet as your relationship is.