Domestic partnerships can be rather confusing as the rights and privileges of a domestic partnership vary from state to state. State law reigns supreme for the issue, yet there are many cities and municipalities that address domestic partnerships with local laws and ordinances.
While such measures are usually intended to further the rights of same-sex couples, they often serve to muddy the waters and make the legal status even more confusing.
What is a Domestic Partner in Arizona?
Generally speaking, a domestic partner is an unmarried individual who shares a residence with their sexual partner. Most domestic partners are same-sex couples, but the same opportunity is extended to unmarried heterosexual couples.
The state of Arizona recognizes domestic partnerships, though only for limited purposes. The most common example is when a hospitalized patient cannot communicate with their doctors to make important healthcare decisions. In such cases, an unmarried, domestic partner may be permitted to act as a healthcare proxy or surrogate under ARS §36-3231.
Domestic Partnership Benefits
Many cities including Phoenix and Tucson recognize domestic partnerships and maintain registries where partners may file a declaration of domestic partnership or civil union. Unfortunately, the rights of domestic partners are still quite limited.
A domestic partner has the right to visit their partner in a hospital or healthcare facility and serve as their healthcare proxy. However, they do not enjoy the legal rights and privileges afforded to married couples in Arizona.
Some insurance companies in Arizona extend coverage for domestic partners, but they are not required to do so by law. Unfortunately, that means it’s up to the insurer’s discretion to which, if any, benefits are extended to domestic partners.
Understanding this, it’s safe to say there’s only one guaranteed benefit for domestic partnerships in Arizona: the right to visit their partner in a healthcare facility or hospital. Unfortunately, the benefits of a domestic partnership end there.
The Difference Between Domestic Partnership and Marriage
Marriage comes with a number of rights and privileges that vary from state to state. In Arizona, the following rights are automatically extended to married couples:
From the moment you’re married, most assets either spouse acquires are shared equally as community property. The only exceptions are gifts and inheritances. Outside of that, separate property is limited to assets acquired before the marriage, and assets acquired after a legal separation or divorce. Even then, separate property that becomes commingled with community property to the extent it becomes indistinguishable legally becomes community property (e.g. if you liquidate a 401k from before your marriage and deposit the proceeds in your joint savings account).
Inheritance Rights Under Intestacy Poceedings
When someone dies without a will, their estate is considered “intestate” and subject to pass to their legal heirs through intestacy proceedings. When you’re legally married and either have no children or exclusively have children with your current spouse, your spouse is entitled to receive your entire estate. If you have children with another partner, your current spouse is entitled to receive 50% of your estate, while your children from separate relationship(s) are entitled to 50% of your assets.
Health Insurance Coverage
Insurance companies are required to extend coverage to the primary policyholder’s legal spouse.
Health Care Proxy
When a married individual is incapacitated and cannot communicate with his or her healthcare providers, the individual’s spouse is entitled to serve as their healthcare proxy. He or she has the right to access confidential medical files, communicate with doctors, and make important healthcare decisions until the incapacitated individual regains their capacity.
When a child is born to a married couple, paternity is automatically assumed for the married spouse.
In certain divorce and legal separation cases, a spouse is entitled to ongoing financial support in the form of spousal maintenance.
Unfortunately, Arizona law does not automatically extend these rights to domestic partnerships in Arizona. The only way for same-sex couples to enjoy these rights is to get married.
How to Become a Domestic Partner in Arizona
Unmarried individuals participating in a domestic partnership who meet the established criteria may apply to record their domestic partnership on the local registry. The criteria include:
- Both partners must share a common residence within the city boundaries
- Both partners are in a committed relationship and share responsibility for each other’s common welfare
- Neither party is married (to each other or a third party)
- Neither partner is part of an existing civil union or domestic partnership with a third party
- Both individuals are at least 18 years old and possess the capacity to enter into a contract
- The partners are not related to one another by blood closer than the level that would bar legal marriage under state law
Note that there are no time requirements for the relationship or cohabitation like you may find in other states. It doesn’t matter whether the partners have been together for seven weeks or seven years.
Similarly, the domestic partnership status is not automatically conferred on a couple based on a period of cohabitation (like in a common law marriage). This is sometimes an option in other states, but not in Arizona. You must apply to record the domestic partnership — it isn’t automatically bestowed.
After completing the affidavit of domestic partnership and paying any applicable filing fees, the signees will receive signed copies of the affidavit of domestic partnership. This serves as the official documentation. Arizona does not issue domestic partnership certificates.
What is a Civil Union Relationship?
Civil unions are nearly identical to domestic partnerships, though the actual definition varies from state to state. Generally speaking, states that recognize a civil union relationship grant the same rights and privileges to civil unions as they do to domestic partnerships.
There are only six states that recognize civil unions: Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. Unfortunately, Arizona does not recognize civil unions.
That said, civil unions and domestic partnerships have historically been used by same-sex couples who were unable to marry under state laws. As Arizona now permits same-sex marriage, same-sex couples who are seeking the benefits of married couples are no longer hindered by heterosexual marriage requirements. The rights of married couples are extended to all Arizonans, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender.
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