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What rights do registered domestic partners have in California and what impact do they have on the employment relationship?

Under the California Domestic Partner Rights and Responsibilities Act of 2003, as amended by SB 30 in July of 2019, domestic partners who meet certain criteria under California law and who follow specified procedures can file with the Secretary of State as registered domestic partners and receive the same treatment as married couples under the employer's benefits plans.   

According to the California Secretary of State website, a domestic partnership is established when persons meeting the criteria specified by California Family Code section 297 file either a Declaration of Domestic Partnership or a Confidential Declaration of Domestic Partnership with the California Secretary of State. See Domestic Partnership Forms.

To qualify for registration, couples must meet the following basic criteria:

A. Domestic partners are two adults who have chosen to share one another's lives in an intimate and committed relationship of mutual caring.

B. A domestic partnership shall be established in California when both persons file a Declaration of Domestic Partnership with the Secretary of State pursuant to this division, and, at the time of filing, all of the following requirements are met:

    1. Neither person is married to someone else or is a member of another domestic partnership with someone else that has not been terminated, dissolved, or adjudged a nullity.
    2. The two persons are not related by blood in a way that would prevent them from being married to each other in this state.
    3. Both persons are at least 18 years of age, except as provided in Section 297.1.
    4. Both persons are capable of consenting to the domestic partnership.

California HR professionals must be aware of employees' registered domestic partnerships to determine the application of various employee benefits, including:

  • Up to 12 weeks of leave under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) to care for the registered domestic partner.
  • Use of paid leave, sick time and kin-care time to take care of a domestic partner or children.
  • Coverage under an organization's health insurance.
  • Availability of unemployment insurance if an employee quits to move with the domestic partner due to employment.
  • Access to continued state health insurance coverage if an employee of the state retires or dies.
  • Disability insurance coverage.

In addition to the above, registered domestic partner status may also have implications regarding the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). For example, it may come into play in the context of protected categories such as sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender and marital status. Therefore, California employers are strongly encouraged to consult with legal counsel regarding policies or practices surrounding nonregulated leaves or nonhealth employee benefits to ensure full compliance with all applicable laws.


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