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In Washington State, civil unions are also referred to as state registered domestic partnerships (SRDP). As of June 30, 2014, the majority of Washington’s SRDPs were automatically converted to civil marriages. The only exception to this conversion rule involves heterosexual and same-sex couples where at least one of the partners was aged 62 or older as of June 30, 2014. These couples were permitted to retain their state registered domestic partnerships to ensure seniors continued to receive their benefits, as social security and/or pension benefits are sometimes affected when an individual marries.
A marriage or state-registered domestic partnership (SRDP) must be dissolved in court similar to that of dissolving a marriage (i.e. a divorce). In order to divorce or dissolve an SRDP in Washington, at least one of the spouses or partners must reside within the state or be stationed in Washington as a member of the armed forces.
The divorce process is first initiated by filing a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. Washington is a “no-fault” divorce state, which means a party does not need to provide grounds for a marriage, other than an “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage.
In some cases, a couple may have the choice of filing for an annulment rather than a divorce, or in Washington a “declaration of invalidity.” In order to do so, there are specific grounds that must be met.
For couples in Washington over the age of 62, who remained in an SRDP that they now wish to terminate, can be done in the following ways:
The dissolving of a domestic partnership in Washington State is treated similarly to a divorce in many ways. Couples must adhere to residency requirements, state property laws, and pay spousal or child support when necessary. When the couple cannot agree on key matters, such as child custody, maintenance, and asset division, they will have to either mediate or litigate their differences. A domestic partnership would also end if one of the parties passes away.
In Washington, divorcing a same-sex partner is not any different from divorcing a married spouse. Property acquired during the course of the civil union will be divided according to the same community property division laws that apply to marriages, meaning half of all assets and debts are owed to each partner. Child support and maintenance may also be awarded; and any existing prenuptial or pre-civil union agreements will control to the extent that they are applicable and enforceable.
There are no longer a set of lawyers who specialize in civil unions and another set of lawyers who specialize in family law or marriage between couples of the opposite sex. Procedurally, the dissolution of a marriage and the dissolution of a civil union is identical.
July 23, 2007
This day marks the first day that heterosexual and same-sex couples can register for a domestic partnership.
March 4, 2008
Washington lawmakers approve the addition of more than 170 rights and responsibilities to individuals in domestic partnerships; Governor Christine Gregoire signs the Bill on March 12, 2008. This new law becomes effective on June 12, 2008.
At this time, lawmakers who backed the legislation related to domestic partnerships state that their goal is to expand the marriage laws to include same-sex couples. These lawmakers consider the creation of domestic partnerships as a step in that direction. Furthermore, Civil Marriage Equality Bills are introduced to encourage discussion.
Once the 2008 bill that expands Domestic Partnership Law is implemented, the benefits and responsibilities provided to domestic partners include:
Jan. 28, 2009
The “Everything but Marriage” Bill is introduced.
Engrossed Second Substitute Senate Bill 5688 intends to provide domestic partners with “Everything but Marriage.” This bill amends state laws, essentially making domestic partnerships (civil unions) equal to civil marriage.
May 18, 2009
Governor Gregoire signs the “Everything but Marriage Bill.”
Dec. 3, 2009
Washington voters approve the bill (53 percent to 47 percent), making the bill a law. This vote marks the first time that voters approve a statewide ballot measure extending relationship rights for individuals within the LGBT community.
Jan. 16, 2012
Senate Bill 6239 is introduced to amend RCW 26 – Domestic Relations. Besides legalizing same-sex marriage, State Registered Domestic Partnerships will be modified as well. This bill converts any undissolved domestic partnerships into marriages as long as both partners are under the age of 62.
Feb. 1, 2012
Senate Bill 6239 passes in the Senate (28 to 21).
Feb. 8, 2012
The House of Representatives passes HB 2516 (55 to 43), which is the companion bill to SB 6239.
Feb. 13, 2012
Governor Gregoire signs the Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 6239; this Act changes the definition of civil marriage from male and female, or husband and wife, to simply two persons. The law was to take effect in June of 2012, but due to opposition from voters, the law was not enacted as scheduled.
Nov. 6, 2012
Voters approve Referendum 74 legalizing same-sex marriage. This law also addresses the automatic conversion of domestic partnerships to civil marriages on June 30, 2014, if such partnerships are not dissolved or already voluntarily converted prior to that date.
Dec. 6, 2012
Same-sex couples can legally marry in Washington.
June 26, 2015
The Supreme Court rules that same-sex couples can legally marry nationwide.
Both same-sex and heterosexual couples are required to obtain a marriage license. A marriage license is valid for 60 days after issuance. If a couple does not marry within that timeframe, they must apply for another license.
Once the license is attained, the couple must wait at least three days to hold their wedding ceremony.
The marriage must be solemnized by an individual who is legally authorized to do so in the State of Washington. Furthermore, for the marriage to be valid, at least two witnesses must be present at the time nuptials are exchanged.
The federal benefits, responsibilities, and protections afforded to a married couple consisting of a male and female also apply to individuals in same-sex marriages.
If you reside in or near Spokane and are currently in a state registered domestic partnership or a civil marriage that you would like to dissolve, contact our office today. The caring and compassionate family law attorneys at Twyford Law Office are here to help you through this difficult time.