Domestic Partnership v. Marriage

I am a partner in a Nevada registered domestic partnership. We had been together for 10 years and our domestic partnership was registered in 2009. Six months ago my partner had an affair and left me. She just married her girlfriend last weekend. My question is this: Does her new marriage legally terminate our domestic partnership? Can a person be involved in a domestic partnership with one person and married to another? What are my rights?

The statutes governing domestic partnership can be found in Chapter 122A of the Nevada Revised Statutes. Domestic partnership was intended to give same-sex couples a way to legalize and formalize their relationships at a time when same-sex marriage was not legal. Despite this purpose, however, the laws were written to apply equally to heterosexual couples as well. Although same-sex marriage is now legal in all states, in many states like Nevada, domestic partnerships remain a viable social contract and can exist separate from a marriage. As indicated in the statutes, a domestic partnership is a social contract, just like a marriage and partners are to enjoy the same rights and protections as spouses in a marriage.

In answering the questions above, the first issue is whether a valid domestic partnership exists. In order to have a valid domestic partnership established in Nevada, the parties must have complied with certain requirements: 1) the partnership must be registered with the Secretary of State; 2) the parties must live together on at least a part-time basis; 3) the parties cannot be married to any third party at the time of registration; 4) the partners cannot be related within the second degree of consanguinity; 5) both parties must be at least 18 years old; and 6) both parties must be competent to contract.

Once a valid domestic partnership has been established in Nevada, the parties enjoy the same rights and duties as married spouses. They may establish community property and debts. Upon separation and dissolution, the dependent partner may be entitled to support and maintenance. Domestic partners have the same rights to inherit as married spouses do.

In order to terminate a domestic partnership, certain steps must be taken. If the partnership was less than 5 years, there are no children, or disputed property issues, both parties may sign a simple termination form and file with the Nevada Secretary of State.

If the partnership is for longer than 5 years or if there are disputed property issues, a domestic partnership must be dissolved through the family court in the same way as a marriage is dissolved under Chapter 125 of the Nevada Revised Statutes.

A new marriage to a third person does not automatically terminate an existing domestic partnership. It is unclear, however, whether the subsequent marriage to a third party is void due to the existence of a domestic partnership. In Nevada, this issue is an unsettled area of law. There is nothing written in the marriage statutes specifically voiding a marriage in the event of an existing domestic partnership, although a domestic partnership is not valid in the event of an existing marriage. The way the statutes are currently written, however, a marriage contract is separate from a domestic partnership.

In the question set forth above, regardless of whether the subsequent marriage is a valid marriage, the left behind domestic partner should file a complaint to dissolve the domestic partnership seeking support (if appropriate) and division of community property. The domestic partner’s new spouse should also be brought into the lawsuit as a third party defendant since that spouse may now hold property that legally belongs to the domestic partnership.

Jessica H. Anderson
Family Law Attorney Reno, NV