Domestic Partnerships

A domestic relations action pertains to any matter brought before the family court, including petitions for separate maintenance, otherwise referred to as legal separation in Georgia. Once an action is initiated within the court, there are certain rules and procedures which must be followed before the case can be resolved.

Domestic Relations Action Standing Order

A domestic relations action pertains to any matter brought before the family court, including petitions for separate maintenance, otherwise referred to as legal separation in Georgia. Once an action is initiated within the court, there are certain rules and procedures which must be followed before the case can be resolved.

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Standing Orders in Domestic Relations Cases

In any domestic relations case filed in the Family Division of the Superior Court of Fulton County, there is an automatic domestic standing order that applies. Similar orders exist in other jurisdictions which regulate the conduct of the parties involved, although in other jurisdictions a standing order must be requested by either of the parties. These orders apply until a subsequent order, either temporary or final, is issued. They:

  • prohibit each party from attempting to harass, threaten, intimidate, or otherwise harm the other party involved, or their family members;
  • prohibit either party from shutting off the utilities in a marital residence;
  • Prohibit dropping or changing automobile, health, life, and other types of insurance coverage;
  • prevent either party from giving away, selling, or otherwise disposing of any marital property or items belonging to the other party, subject to some exceptions;
  • prohibit the parties involved in domestic relations cases pertaining to child custody (other than hearings for contempt or modification of a prior order) from removing the child or children from the state, other than for vacations or excursions shorter than 14 days;
  • require parties in cases involving children to attend the “Families in Transition” Seminar.

Failure to comply with any of the above could result in contempt of court charges and the imposition of fines and penalties.

Termination of Domestic Partnership

One of the many benefits of a domestic partnership is that, unlike going through a divorce, the termination of a domestic partnership is a relatively simple process. In general, you do not face legal ramifications, such as those involved with marital property division and spousal support proceedings.

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Nor do you have to contend with the time, court costs, and legal fees involved. Since you never relinquished your single status, it has little impact on other relationships you may enter into in the future.

Dissolution of Marriage

Divorce is referred to legally as the dissolution of a marriage. Title 19 of the Georgia Code requires one of the parties to file a petition with the court stating the legal grounds for the divorce and how practical issues related to the marriage will be resolved. This includes the division of any marital property and assets, of which each party is entitled to a reasonable share. This and other issues, such as spousal support or child custody, must be resolved before a divorce can be finalized. If the parties fail to agree on the terms of the divorce, or one of them does not consent to the divorce, it can drag these proceedings out for months or even years.

However, a prenuptial agreement can resolve some of these issues, including spousal support and the division of marital property. In order to make things less complicated in the event of a divorce, it often makes sense for parties seeking to marry to have a prenup drafted by an experienced lawyer prior to saying “I Do.”

Dissolution of Domestic Partnership

In contrast, the dissolution of domestic partnership is a far less complicated and time-consuming affair. Depending on where your domestic partnership was issued, you simply notify these offices that you would like it to be terminated. Additionally, if your partner is receiving benefits through your employer based on a domestic partnership, it would be wise for you to consult with them regarding the termination of those benefits. A good example would be if your partner was receiving health care benefits through your employer based on the partnership. While you may have disagreements with your partner regarding property or other assets you purchased together, resolving these issues is not tied to domestic partnership termination the way it is in a divorce.

Additionally, when you get married, you surrender your legal status as a single person. The only way to change this is to get your marriage annulled. With a domestic partnership, this is not the case. You retain your single status, which can benefit you in future relationships.

Legal Rights and Responsibilities of Domestic Partners

Domestic partnership provides an option for couples who live together but prefer not to get married. Our Georgia family law attorneys can guide you through the process and legal requirements, ensuring you understand the rights and responsibilities that go along with this commitment.

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Domestic Partnership Rights

One of the main benefits of a domestic partnership is that it can provide each partner with some of the rights married couples enjoy without having to go through the legal process or the entanglements that can result in the event of a divorce.

Domestic partnership is available on a limited basis in Georgia. It is offered only through the City of Atlanta, Athens-Clarke County Unified Government, and Fulton County. Because Dekalb is one of the counties in which we practice, clients frequently ask if domestic partnerships are available there. Unfortunately, they are not.

As a domestic partner, you are generally entitled to the right to:

  • be listed on your partner’s health insurance or to list them on yours;
  • take paid family leave in the event one of you suffers a serious illness or injury;
  • bereavement leave in the event your partner passes away;
  • visitation in the event you or your partner is hospitalized or incarcerated;
  • be informed and take part in all medical decisions.

These are some, but not all, of the rights from which married couples traditionally benefit. A domestic partnership does not automatically entitle you to inheritance rights or allow you to claim a portion of marital property or spousal support in the event your relationship ends. Nor does it automatically legitimate the father of any children born of the partnership.

Your Responsibilities in a Domestic Partnership

Under Athen-Clarke County Court guidelines, your primary responsibility in a domestic partnership is to be jointly accountable and obligated to the necessities surrounding your life together. This implies sharing household tasks and living expenses. While not enforceable specifically through your domestic partnership, this can form the basis for domestic partnership agreements and civil actions in the event a dispute occurs.

Other local governments offering domestic partnerships have different requirements. It is always best to consult with an experienced attorney to determine what your responsibilities may be in a domestic partnership.

Domestic Partnership Registration

Our Georgia family law attorneys are here to assist you with domestic partnership registration. If you and your partner opt to live together but are reluctant to get married, it offers an additional level of commitment in your relationship while providing numerous practical benefits. The following outlines the registration process and the documents you will need to present to officials.

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Georgia Domestic Partnership Registration

Domestic partnership is not available statewide in Georgia. Rather than being authorized under the Georgia Code, it is, instead, up to individual cities and counties within the state to decide whether to offer it and to create the rules and regulations governing these agreements. Domestic partnership registration is currently only offered in the following areas:

  • The city of Atlanta;
  • Fulton County at large, but only to same-sex couples;
  • Athens-Clarke County.

In Atlanta, domestic partnership is available to both city residents and government employees. To register, contact the Atlanta Mayor’s Office through Constituent Services.

The basic requirements for domestic partnership in all three areas where it is offered are generally the same. To register, you need to provide a government-issued photo ID listing your address or other proof that you reside together, such as a utility bill. You must also assert that you are at least 18 years old, are not currently in another domestic partnership agreement, and are not legally married or separated.

Some private companies offer benefits for domestic partners, but that is usually on a case-by-case basis. If you are in a domestic partnership, it would serve your interests to check with your human resources department to see what may be available to your partner. You have to register your partner with your employer, who may have independent guidelines for how that must be accomplished.

Domestic Partnership Certificate

Once you submit the appropriate information, pay processing fees, and have your application approved, you will receive a domestic partnership certificate. While it is not equivalent to a marriage license, it may be presented to employers and service providers to qualify you for certain benefits. Once this certificate is in place, you must notify the issuing office in order to have it terminated.

Cohabitation and Child Custody Considerations in Georgia Domestic Partner Law

While domestic partnership can be a viable option for couples who would rather not get married, it can present problems in the event you and your partner become parents.

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As Georgia family law attorneys, we want you to be aware of the potential paternity and child custody issues you could face in these situations.

Proving Paternity in Domestic Partnerships

For couples who are legally wed, the husband is automatically assumed to be the father of any children born during the marriage. Being married ensures his name is on the birth certificate and makes him responsible for providing financial support. It also ensures that the child receives certain benefits, such as inheritance rights and access to health care, social security, and other important programs.

For cohabitating couples in domestic partnerships, this is not the case. There is no automatic presumption of fatherhood. Instead, the Georgia Department of Human Services (DHS) advises that the father complete a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity form as soon as possible, preferably in the hospital after giving birth. This acknowledgment provides unwed fathers with legal or physical custody rights to their children.

If the acknowledgment was not signed, and the relationship ends, in order to gain guaranteed rights to their children, unwed fathers may have to go to court and initiate paternity proceedings, including a legitimation action, to establish their custody rights.

Child Support and Domestic Partnerships

Parents have a legal responsibility to provide for their children financially. People in domestic partnerships have the same rights to receive child support through a court order as those in legal marriages. In the Georgia courts, child support proceedings rely on guidelines to determine the amount of support that should be paid. This will vary based on the child’s individual needs, any custody arrangements, and the income or earning potential of each parent. Once a child support order is in place, it can be enforced through the court in the event it is not paid. For any parent in a child support action, it is important that the appropriate amount of child support is ordered. This usually means that there needs to be an accurate reporting of each parent’s income. This can be difficult for a self-employed parent.

At Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor, our attorneys have the necessary training and experience to ensure that all issues related to children in a domestic partnership are appropriately addressed.

Benefits of Domestic Partnership

Although domestic partnership benefits are not the same as those you would be entitled to if you were legally married, entering into this type of arrangement does offer practical incentives.

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As experienced Georgia family law attorneys, we know there are numerous reasons why you and your partner would not want to surrender your status as single individuals. In these cases, the benefits of a domestic partnership may be a solution while helping avoid the legal entanglements of marriage.

Domestic Partnership Legal Rights

Several cities and counties in Georgia — the City of Atlanta, Fulton County, and the Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County — have passed laws providing for domestic partnerships. A common requirement of these governmental entities is that one member of the partnership must be a city/county employee in order to qualify.

However, there can be other subtle differences in who qualifies in each of these municipalities. For example, the City of Atlanta offers domestic partnership as an option for city employees who are residents of the city and living together, provided they are over 18 and not currently in another domestic partnership agreement or legal marriage. Domestic partnership is also offered in Athens-Clarke County and in Fulton County at large, but Fulton only offers domestic partnerships to couples in same-sex relationships. Domestic partnership legal rights you may be entitled to include:

  • The right for you or your partner to be listed on each other’s employer-sponsored health insurance program;
  • The right to participate in each other’s employer-sponsored pension benefits, such as the opportunity to contribute to an IRA or 401k plan;
  • The right to employer family leave benefits, in the event you have children, and bereavement leave, in the event something happens to you or your partner;
  • The right to be considered as immediate family in the event your partner is hospitalized and to have a voice in health care decisions;
  • The right to visit your partner if he or she is placed under arrest or incarcerated.

Unlike a legal marriage, a domestic partnership does not provide you with tax benefits and spousal inheritance rights, nor does it automatically establish paternity in the event there are children born of the relationship. Instead, as a party in a domestic partnership, you might have to bring legal action in order to gain rights to your children, such as a legitimation action sometimes brought by unwed fathers. If you are a father in a domestic partnership, it would makes sense to speak with an attorney about filing a consent legitimation action with the court so that you have custody rights to your children in the event domestic partnership ends.

However, at the dissolution of a domestic partnership, as it relates to the division of jointly-owned property, assets, and debts, you are not required to go through the same grueling process divorce demands.

Marietta and Atlanta Domestic Partnerships

A Domestic Partnership Agreement, also commonly called a Joint Property Agreement or a Living Together Agreement, is a document that explains the contractual legal rights and responsibilities of each partner when a couple decides to form a long-term committed relationship and own property together.

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A Domestic Partnership Agreement is an important legal document for any unmarried relationship. Now that same-sex relationships are recognized by family law, the Domestic Partnership Agreement would be for both heterosexual and same-sex relationships.

In the event of potential disputes, misunderstandings or death, a Domestic Partnership Agreement can help clarify ownership of property, provide guidance for dividing property in the event of a separation, and specify a dispute resolution mechanism such as mediation or arbitration prior to the commencement of litigation.

Child Custody

Child custody cases involving domestic partners are often complex. If the child is the offspring of an unmarried heterosexual couple, the paternity of the child may be in question, requiring legitimation (legal acknowledgement). However, if the domestic partners are a non-traditional couple, establishing parental rights may be even more difficult. A domestic partnership agreement that outlines the terms of custody and visitation can help, but child custody matters between domestic partners tend to be more complex than between divorcing couples simply because the law is not as clear.

It is also recommended that unmarried and same sex couples possess the following documents:

  • Revocable Living Trust: A Living Trust distributes property much the same way a Will does, but it accomplishes the distribution without probate court supervision or interference. It tends to be a less expensive and less time-consuming private process. Many Living Trusts also incorporate credit shelter provisions to maximize tax savings for your heirs.
  • Last Will and Testament: A Will is the most common document used for giving away possessions after death. This writing instructs a probate court on distributing your assets after all of your bills are paid. It can also include legally binding instructions that designate the desired type of funeral, people you want to administer your estate, or those you want to take custody of minor children. Consult a Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor attorney for complete details.
  • Advance Directive for Healthcare (formerly known as a Living Will): As an unmarried person, it is extremely important for you to have a Georgia Advance Directive for Health Care naming a partner or a friend as your agent. If you don’t, hospitals and courts will look to your closest biological family member to make health care decisions for you. This means your partner or friend will have no legal right to make such decisions, or in some cases, to even visit you in the hospital.
  • Durable Power of Attorney for Finances: You need to create a durable power of attorney for finances naming your partner or a friend as agent. Without this document and a Trust in place, no one will be able to manage your finances unless a guardianship proceeding is filed in court, and your closest biological family members will have priority of appointment.
  • Power of Attorney for Minor Children: A power of attorney for minor children allows the biological or adoptive parent to give authority to the non-biological or non-adoptive parent to be involved in educational and medical decisions for the child.

We encourage Alternative Dispute Resolution—a more amicable approach to resolving conflict. Our family law attorneys can steer you through divorce mediation or a collaborative divorce.

Speak With a Caring Domestic Partnership Attorney

Understand your options with an initial consultation. Please call Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor today at (678) 971-3413 or fill out our simple contact form to set up an appointment or to get additional information. Our office hours are from 8:30 a.m. until 6:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, with evening appointments available by request. We accept all major credit cards.

We act as advocates for LGBT families throughout the Atlanta metropolitan area with any form of healthcare, living will, power of attorney, or other legal issue that may hinder your life.