Some couples in Pennsylvania choose to cohabitate rather than get married. They may choose this route for financial reasons, such as taxes and Social Security benefits, or they may have other personal reasons. Pennsylvania does not offer civil unions or domestic partnerships at the state level, but the state will recognize domestic partnership agreements formed in other states. Also, unmarried couples can create cohabitation agreements to protect themselves and their assets in the event the domestic partnership does not work out.
In the past, same-sex couples could only enter into domestic partnerships or civil unions, but all of that changed when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states in 2015. Now, most states recognize the union of same-sex partners as marriage. Additionally, Philadelphia offers life partnership options to qualifying couples, particularly same-sex couples who work for the city.
Regardless of why you formed a domestic partnership with your partner, you have come to realize the relationship is not working out, and you want to dissolve your domestic partnership. You need to understand your rights and options before dissolving your domestic partnership in Pennsylvania, and you should reach out to an experienced family law attorney for help.
Domestic Partnership and Cohabitation Agreements
A domestic partnership agreement, or a cohabitation agreement, is a legal arrangement that couples can use to establish their rights and obligations in the relationship. Couples who choose to live together in an intimate, romantic relationship may create a cohabitation agreement that defines the roles and responsibilities of each party. Cohabitation agreements typically include items and topics, such as:
- Protecting each other partner's assets and income
- Defining co-mingled or jointly owned property
- How the couple will handle debts and creditor accounts
- Determining how jointly owned property and debts will be divided when the partnership ends
- Defining and determining any child custody and support issues
- Ensuring one partner can act as next-of-kin or make important health-related decisions for the other
- Defining any ongoing financial support one partner may receive from the other following the breakup
With respect to child-related matters, the state will always consider the best interest of any shared children from the relationship, and courts reserve the right to review any cohabitation agreements and make any adjustments or changes as necessary to protect the welfare of the children. Also, cohabitation agreements may work in conjunction with other important documents and instruments, such as powers of attorney and advance healthcare directives. Therefore, it is important you work with an experienced Pennsylvania family law attorney to help draft the agreement.
In the event a domestic partnership does not work out in Pennsylvania, the cohabitation agreement will serve as a legal contract of sorts, allowing parties to enforce any terms, obligations, or promises they made to each other regarding their lives together and their lives following a breakup. Also, if a couple is unmarried and one partner dies, the surviving partner will automatically have the right to inherit property from the other as is the case with married couples, and the cohabitation agreement can cover such contingencies so that the surviving partner can take ownership of the family home, for instance.
With a cohabitation agreement, parties can realize many of the same benefits and protections that married couples receive. If the couple already has a formal domestic partnership in another state and moves to Pennsylvania, the state should recognize the domestic partnership agreement and respect the rights and entitlements of each party as defined in the agreement.
Additionally, since the legalization of same-sex marriages, many domestic partnerships are recognized as marriages, and a couple would have to dissolve the relationship in a same-sex divorce. However, if the spouses draft a cohabitation agreement instead of getting married, they will have a separate process for dissolving the partnership that is somewhat simpler than divorce.
On top of this, it may be necessary to dissolve a domestic partnership if the couple is now pursuing other partners. A domestic partnership in another state can invalidate one's chances of getting married in a new state. These situations can sometimes be remedied through Pennsylvania's legal system.
Dissolving A Domestic Partnership Formed in Pennsylvania
If you and your partner created a cohabitation agreement in Pennsylvania, you will not have to file the agreement with the court, but the state's courts should honor the agreement. Any issues that arise will require enforcement from the court like any other contract, and you will need an experienced family law attorney for help.
Dissolving A Domestic Partnership from Other States
There are two ways to go about dissolving an out-of-state domestic partnership agreement or some other out-of-state civil union in Pennsylvania. These include Equity Jurisdiction and Comity. If a court, for whatever reason, is not able or not willing to dissolve the partnership, the couple must dissolve the partnership in the state that recognizes it.
Equity Jurisdiction is used to dissolve partnerships from other states. The process is meant to remedy situations and protect the rights of spouses. This method can be used for former domestic partners that find themselves unable to dissolve their relationship or enter into any new and legally recognized relationship. It is most commonly used when the state that recognized the domestic partnership does not have laws that explicitly set the domestic partnership as equal to a marriage.
Comity is a doctrine of common law that allows a state to make decisions on matters that were decided by other states. Comity can only be utilized so long as the laws of the states are not in direct conflict with one another. This method is commonly used in circumstances where domestic partnerships or civil unions are on equal ground with marriage in the state. The couple can go through the usual divorce proceedings, as Pennsylvania will recognize the partnership as a marriage through comity. Once this is done the dissolution becomes a bit more complex as the couple must now go through Pennsylvania's process for divorce.
While these two processes can be used in Pennsylvania to dissolve a domestic partnership recognized and legitimized by another state, they are not always applicable. Sometimes, depending on the situation, the court may not be able to or may not want to dissolve the partnership, and the couple must do so through their original state.
Philadelphia's Life Partnership
Although the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania does not recognize civil unions and domestic partnerships, the state does recognize same-sex marriages. Furthermore, Philadelphia offers life partnerships to residents of the city who are of the same sex or gender and wish to cohabitate without getting married. Life partners will have the same rights and benefits as married partners.
To qualify, couples must meet the following criteria:
- They are a resident of Philadelphia, a city employee, own real property in the city, operate a business in the city, or have a vested interest in city employee benefits.
- They are at least 18 years old.
- They are not related by blood.
- They have not been a member of a different life partnership for at least 12 months.
- They share a residence.
Couples must agree to share all aspects of their lives together, including each other's welfare. By law, they must also notify the city of any changes in their domestic relationship that alters their life partnership.
Ending a Life Partnership
Either partner may choose to terminate a life partnership, and the partnership will end automatically if one partner dies or marries someone else. Partners may end their partnership by signing a joint termination statement together. The partnership will end 60 days after filing.
If only one partner wishes to end the life partnership, they must sign the termination statement and file a proof of service. The proof of service acts as confirmation of the partner's desire to terminate the partnership and will be given to the other partner through registered or certified mail. The life partnership will be terminated 60 days after the individual termination statement and proof of service are filed.
Get Help from an Experienced Pennsylvania Family Law Attorney
Drafting a cohabitation agreement can be challenging because the laws can be complex and confusing. You want to ensure you protect yourself, your assets, and your children if you have any before you sign the agreement.
You will need help from an attorney who has extensive knowledge of Pennsylvania's family laws and can advise you of your rights and options. Just as important, you also want an attorney to help you enforce your cohabitation agreement if you need to dissolve your domestic partnership.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped many clients in Pennsylvania with all aspects of drafting and enforcing their cohabitation agreements. He has in-depth knowledge of Pennsylvania's family laws, and he can help you understand your rights and options and advocate for you during the dissolution of your domestic partnership.
Contact attorney Lento and the legal team at the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 or through our online contact form.