Florida Domestic Partnerships Expand: Does this Affect Divorce?

On behalf of The Law Offices of Cindy D. Sackrin posted in Family Law on Thursday, September 13, 2012.

Broward County residents may have heard that a number of Florida cities and counties have recently adopted domestic partner registries. These registries, established by ordinance, afford certain rights enjoyed by those who are married to unmarried couples. They are also becoming increasingly important in matters of family law.

In one Florida city, commissioners are discussing whether to adopt such an ordinance. One commissioner noted that other city and county governments have adopted or are considering adopting this kind of measure. And, the two largest cities in the county already have ordinances in place.

Another Florida city's ordinance maintains that many residents establish significant emotional and economic relationships outside of traditional marriage. The ordinance provides that health care facilities in the city must honor a domestic partnership registration and permit visitation rights to registered partners. The local city council has also found that a registry can attract new businesses, benefitting city development.

In Broward County, gay and straight couples who are not married can register as domestic partners and will be extended benefits by the county. They can fill out a Declaration of Domestic Partnership Form, have it endorsed by a Notary Public and submit it along with a fee to the division. Upon filing, the registration becomes public record.

Because of the complexities of any personal relationship, in the event of an ongoing dispute or other family legal issues that ultimately require separation, a domestic partnership can be amended or terminated in Broward County. Domestic partners should understand that along with the rights afforded by registration, they also undertake some obligations that are similar to those of a married spouse, such as making medical or funeral decisions for their partner.

Under current law, domestic partnerships do not provide the same rights and benefits as marriage, but they afford many important privileges. One important feature of a domestic partnership, as compared to a marriage, is that the same framework (for issues like property division or child support) to split up is not in place. Since a couple with a domestic partnership cannot simply file for divorce, like a married couple, it may complicate the process of dissolving their relationship.

Registration provides legal recognition for same- or opposite-sex unmarried couples in a committed partnership, and, as more ordinances like the one in Broward County are adopted, they will continue to expand this developing area of family law.

Source: Tampa Bay News Weekly, "Meeting planned on domestic partnerships," Tom Germond, Sept. 5, 2012

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