Article provided by Deanna Jensen - Jensen & Leiberan PC
Couples who live together and share a life together, but do not marry or register as domestic partners may have legal obligations toward one another under Oregon law. Although Oregon law does not recognize "common law marriage," Oregon law recognizes unregistered domestic partnerships where the parties have intended to share income, assets and/or debts during the parties' relationship.
Registered Domestic Partnerships in Oregon
Prior to the Federal District Court ruling in May of 2014 that allowed same-sex couples to marry in Oregon, the Oregon legislature legalized Registered Domestic Partnerships. That law is still on the books and was not invalidated by the court ruling.
A registered domestic partnership is formed when a same-sex couple files a Declaration of Domestic Partnership form with the state of Oregon. The first date that couples could register under the current state-wide law was February 4, 2008. Same-sex couples that previously registered under a local Oregon county domestic partnership registry (Portland, Ashland, or Eugene), registered in another state, or married in another state or country, should register under the Oregon registered domestic partnership law, if they wish to receive protections and benefits provided by the law.
Some of the rights of registered domestic partners include: the right to make health care decisions for a partner; the right to seek support from a partner if the registered domestic partnership is dissolved; the right to visit a partner in the hospital; the right to inherit from a partner if a partner dies without a will; the right to file joint state income tax returns; and automatic rights of survivorship for property jointly owned with a partner.
Once individuals have registered as domestic partners in Oregon, they have created a legal relationship, which must be dissolved through a legal proceeding if either partner wishes to end the relationship. Even if both partners are living outside of the state of Oregon at the end of the relationship, the petition to dissolve the registered domestic partnership must still be filed in Oregon. Procedurally, a dissolution of a registered domestic partnership is similar to a divorce proceeding. The court may divide property, debts, award support to either partner, award child support, determine custody and parenting time issues for any joint children, and award either party attorney fees and costs. However, there may be significant tax consequences for both parties and difficulties in dividing retirement accounts, since registered domestic partners are not afforded the same rights as a married couple under federal law.
Unregistered Domestic Partnerships in Oregon
The court will look to the intent and actions of the parties to determine if an unregistered domestic partnership has been formed. If there is not a written document outlining the intent of the parties, the court may look to the actions of the parties to determine the parties' intent. Factors the court may consider include: whether the parties co-mingled finances; whether the parties acquired jointly titled assets; and whether the parties held themselves out as married.
Unregistered domestic partners are usually not entitled to receive financial support from a partner if the relationship ends. Unregistered domestic partners are not automatically allowed to make decisions for a partner if that partner is incapacitated or to visit that partner in the hospital.
At the end of the relationship, either party may file a petition with the court, requesting the dissolution of the unregistered domestic partnership. If the parties have joint children, custody, parenting time, and child support issues may be determined at the same time that the court decides how to divide the parties' assets and debts. If either party establishes that the parties intended to share property acquired during the domestic partnership, the court may divide both jointly and individually titled property in order to reach a fair result based on the proven intent of the parties.
Should You Talk to an Attorney?
Whether you are considering moving in with a significant other, registering a same-sex domestic partnership, or ending a registered or unregistered domestic partnership, you may want to speak to an attorney about your legal rights.
If you are planning on entering into a domestic partnership, a family law attorney can advise you about the possible legal implications of forming a domestic partnership, and can advise you about what steps you should take in order to make sure that you and your family are protected.
Same-sex registered domestic partners should not assume that other states or countries will recognize an Oregon Domestic Partnership, or that they will be able to have the same rights in other states that they have in Oregon. Same-sex registered domestic partners should consult with an attorney to make sure that both partners and any children are protected if an illness or other emergency of a partner or child occurs when the partners are traveling out of state.
Individuals who live together but are not married or registered as domestic partners should consider filing out an advance directive or a power of attorney if they want to give their partner the ability to make decisions in an emergency. In addition, unregistered domestic partners may want to discuss whether wills, adoptions, or a domestic partnership agreement is needed to give the partners the legal protections they desire.
If you are considering dissolving a registered or an unregistered domestic partnership, an attorney can advise you on the information you need to dissolve your domestic partnership, what steps must be taken to dissolve your domestic partnership, and can help you ensure that you understand the relevant law and facts that are important to your case.