Bucks County Family Law and Divorce Lawyer Discusses Domestic Partnership and Civil Unions in Pennsylvania

By a Doylestown Family Law and Divorce Lawyer

Same Sex Marriage Acknowledged in Pennsylvania

In 2014, the Whitewood v. Wolf case acknowledged the legality of same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania.  Prior to 2014, same-sex couples did not have the ability to be married in Pennsylvania, and were unable to share in the many benefits married couples receive under the law, such as health insurance coverage, retirement benefits, and tax advantages.  As a result, many individuals traveled to other states that had more beneficial laws for same sex couples and entered into domestic partnerships or civil unions. 

Dissolution of Domestic Partnerships or Civil Unions in Pennsylvania and the Divorce Code

Unfortunately, the question quickly arose as to how the law should treat the dissolution of these partnerships or unions, and whether individuals who terminate these relationships should receive the benefits under the Divorce Code.  The Neyman v. Buckley case in 2016 gave much guidance to this question, determining that if the partnership or union from a foreign state provided “the same benefits, protections and responsibilities” as a civil marriage, then it should be viewed as a marriage for the purposes of Pennsylvania law and can be dissolved through the process set forth in the Pennsylvania Divorce Code.  In addition to dissolution, partnerships and unions are able to receive the many benefits under the Divorce Code, including equitable distribution of property and spousal support/alimony.

Pennsylvania Court Process for Creating Partnerships and Civil Unions

Although domestic partnerships and civil unions from other states may be recognized in Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania does not have a statewide process for creating these partnerships and unions.  Some localities in Pennsylvania, however, have allowed for these partnerships and unions for individuals who wish to have some of the benefits of being married without actually getting married.  For example, if you live in Philadelphia County, you can enter into a domestic partnership so that you may obtain the same health insurance and leave benefits that are available to married couples.  A dissolution of this type of partnership has not yet been litigated in Pennsylvania Courts, so it is uncertain whether individuals dissolving them would be entitled to the benefits under the Divorce Code, specifically equitable distribution of property or spousal support/alimony.  If a dissolution of this partnership is litigated, the Court must rely on the standard set forth in the Neyman v. Buckley, or potentially carve out new law on this expanding topic.  

If you entered into a domestic partnership or civil union and are interested in pursuing your rights under the Divorce Code, or would like to learn more about our legal services relating to alimony, equitable distribution, and other divorce and family law matters in Doylestown, Newtown and Yardley, PA, please call us at (215) 968-1800 or contact us online.  We offer evening and weekend appointments for your convenience as well as telephone consultations, if you live far away from our office. We also communicate with our clients via e-mail and respond immediately to all of your questions and needs.

We look forward to hearing from you and helping you.