Filing for a domestic partnership in Austin, Texas, is an option to consider if you’re in a committed relationship and don’t want to marry. Entering into an official domestic partnership allows you to enjoy some spousal-type benefits without getting married.
However, there are some limitations to domestic partnerships in Texas. The process of entering into one may also depend on where you live. Understanding these matters can help you better determine whether a domestic partnership is the right arrangement for you.
What Is a Domestic Partnership in Texas?
Domestic partnership is a legal state similar to marriage or a civil union in which two people commit to having an official relationship. Texas doesn’t recognize domestic partnership agreements statewide, but some counties and cities (such as Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio) do.
You may have to contact your county clerk to learn more about entering into a domestic partnership agreement. Your employer may also offer information about domestic partnerships and the benefits they offer.
How to File for a Domestic Partnership in Texas
The process of filing for a domestic partnership can vary depending on your jurisdiction. In some parts of the state, entering into a domestic partnership agreement is not an option.
In Travis County, there are official steps you must take to enter into a domestic partnership. According to the Travis County Clerk, the steps include:
- Scheduling an Office of Public Records (OPR) recording appointment with the office of the county clerk (which you can do online in Travis County)
- Bringing proof of identity and age to the appointment
- Completing a Declaration of Domestic Partnership form at the office
You can also bring a detailed domestic partnership agreement to include with the form. A domestic partnership agreement can outline the rights and responsibilities of both members of a domestic partnership. Drafting and entering into a thorough one can help you avoid complications if the partnership dissolves. It may also help you address important topics during the relationship. For example, an agreement can specify how partners will split income and household expenses.
Consider reaching out to a Texas family law firm when drafting an agreement. Someone who understands domestic partnership rules, cohabitation laws in Texas, and other such issues may help you put together an agreement that’s legally sound.
There is a fee to file a Declaration of Domestic Partnership. For the first page, the fee is $25.00. The fee is $4.00 for all subsequent pages.
Who Qualifies as a Domestic Partner in Texas?
Who can be a domestic partner in Texas? In the absence of a statewide law, there’s no official definition.
However, domestic partnerships usually involve the following characteristics:
- A couple (including same-sex couples) is in a committed relationship.
- No laws would prevent the couple from marrying if they wished to.
- Both members of the couple are at least 18 years of age.
- The couple resides together.
Depending on your jurisdiction, you might need to meet other criteria to qualify as a domestic partnership in Texas. Make sure you understand your responsibilities when filing for a domestic partnership.
What Is the Difference Between a Domestic Partnership and a Marriage in Texas?
The differences between a spouse vs. domestic partner in Texas generally involve the benefits each enjoys. Consider the following examples:
- Under Texas law, certain employers (such as school districts) may not offer certain benefits (like insurance benefits or Social Security benefits) to domestic partners.
- Domestic partners can’t file taxes together.
- A domestic partner might not automatically inherit anything if their partner passes without a will.
- A domestic partner can’t invoke spousal privilege to avoid testifying against their partner in a trial.
- Domestic partners don’t have the automatic right to receive a share of a partner’s assets when dissolving a partnership.
Understanding the limitations of a domestic partnership in Texas can help you manage expectations when entering into one.
Common Law Marriage vs. Domestic Partnership in Texas
In Texas, common law marriage is a valid way to marry without a formal marriage ceremony. A common law marriage occurs when there is evidence that a couple:
- Agreed to be married.
- Lived together after agreeing to be married.
- Represented themselves as a married couple to other people.
A common law marriage offers the same benefits as a traditional marriage. A domestic partnership won’t offer all the same benefits.
Benefits of a Domestic Partnership in Texas
The benefits of entering into a domestic partnership in Texas can vary somewhat depending on your jurisdiction. They may include:
- Having the right to visit a domestic partner in the hospital or a similar setting.
- Receiving benefits from a partner’s employer if the law doesn’t prohibit it.
- Some employers may offer leave to visit a sick domestic partner. If a domestic partner dies, an employer may offer bereavement leave.
Those are a few examples. Depending on your circumstances, entering into a domestic partnership may be the way to access these benefits without marrying.
Dissolving a Domestic Partnership in Texas: What You Need to Know
You may dissolve a domestic partnership when a relationship ends. Doing so usually involves submitting a form. For example, in Travis County, you can submit a Dissolution of Domestic Partnership form to the county clerk’s office within 31 days of the end of the relationship. You and your partner don’t need to file the form together if you’d prefer not to.
When dissolving a domestic partnership, you may have to address such matters as:
- Whether you will split assets and how you will do so
- Who has the right to continue living in or owning a home you share
- If you have pets, who has a right to keep them or visit them
Those are just a few examples. Managing these issues is easier when you have a thorough domestic partnership agreement in place.
Contact an Austin, Texas, Family Law Attorney
Whether you’re entering into a domestic partnership in Texas or ending one, the process can run much more smoothly when you have proper legal assistance. Smith Family Law an Austin, TX, family law attorney will gladly help you navigate these matters. Learn more about how our team of attorneys can help by contacting us online or calling us at (512) 277-3166 for a free case review.