Domestic Partnership Bill Passes
On Thursday, March 1, 2007, the Washington State Senate passed the Domestic Partnership Bill (SB 5336) by a vote of 28-19. This bill, which extends many of the benefits of marriage to unmarried couples, is widely expected to pass the House due to a Democratic majority. Governor Gregoire has already indicated her support for the bill and that she will sign it.
SB 5336 will create a domestic partner registry which will be administered by the Office of the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State is directed to prepare separate forms for the declaration and termination of a state registered domestic partnership. The forms must contain statements that registration and termination may affect property and inheritance rights and that these rights conferred by registration may be superseded by a will, deed, or other instrument.
WHO MAY REGISTER AS DOMESTIC PARTNERS UNDER SB 5336?
Individuals seeking to enter into a state registered domestic partnership must: (1) share a common residence; (2) be at least 18 years of age; (3) not be married to, nor be in a state registered domestic partnership with, someone other than the person with whom they are entering into a domestic partnership; (4) be capable of consenting to the partnership; (5) not be nearer of kin than second cousins; and (6) be members of the same sex, or one of the persons must be at least 62 years of age.
The inclusion of domestic partnerships for individuals over 62 years of age was added to allow individuals the ability to have some of the most important benefits of marriage without losing their pension rights and social security benefits.
HOW DO INDIVIDUALS REGISTER AS DOMESTIC PARTNERS?
Although specific procedures have not yet been determined, declarations of state registered domestic partnerships will be filed with the Office of the Secretary of State along with a filing fee that does not exceed $50. The declarations must be notarized and signed by both parties. The Office of the Secretary of State will then provide a “Certificate of State Registered Domestic Partnership” to each party. A permanent record of the registration will be created and a copy will be forwarded to the state registrar of vital statistics.
If partners have registered as domestic partners in another State, SB 5336 permits their domestic partnership to be recognized in Washington if the partners meet the eligibility criteria described above.
WHAT RIGHTS ARE CONFERRED BY SB 5336?
SB 5336 confers the following rights onto state registered domestic partners:
- Health care facility visitation rights;
- The ability to grant informed consent for health care for a patient who is not competent;
- The ability to be able to speak with health care providers who will now be able to disclose information about the other partner without that partner’s authorization;
- A surviving domestic partner may bring a wrongful death action based on the death of the other partner;
- Title and rights to cemetery plots and rights of internment;
- The ability to authorize autopsies and request copies of autopsy reports and records;
- The right to control the disposition of the remains of a deceased partner;
- The ability to consent to the removal of human remains from a cemetery plot;
- The ability to make anatomical gifts;
- Inheritance rights when the domestic partner dies without a will; and
- Administration of an estate if the domestic partner died without a will or if the representative named in the will declines or is unable to serve.
Additionally, a certificate of domestic partnership issued by the Office of the Secretary of State fulfills eligibility requirements for the partner of a public employee to receive benefits.
HOW DO PARTNERS TERMINATE A DOMESTIC PARTNERSHIP?
State registered domestic partnerships may be terminated by filing a notice of termination with the Office of the Secretary of State and paying the accompanying filing fee. The termination must be notarized and signed by at least one party.
If both parties do not sign the notice of termination, the partner seeking termination must file an affidavit stating that the other party has been served notice of the termination, or that the other partner could not be located after a reasonable effort. That reasonable effort must include publication of the termination notice in a newspaper of general circulation in the county where the residence most recently shared by the partners is located. The effective date of termination is 90 days after the date the notice was filed.
Partnerships are automatically terminated if either or both partners enter into a marriage that is recognized as valid in Washington.
If the parties have disputes related to division of property, parentage of children, etc., relief may be sought via bringing a Meretricious Relationship case, and/or a Parentage Case