A domestic partnership is loosely defined as a long-term, committed and exclusive relationship where two individuals are financially interdependent. For non-married domestic partners, planning for legal protection, filing taxes and acquiring benefits can be complicated. A couple that enters into a marriage, in any state, is granted certain inalienable rights regarding benefits. There are no laws in the state of Florida that provide rights similar to those of marriage for two people living in domestic partnerships.
Chapter 741.211 of the Florida Statutes states, "No common-law marriage entered into after January 1, 1968, shall be valid." This means that no "common law marriages" or domestic partnerships are allowed or considered valid in the state of Florida. The only way to get benefits as a couple is to enter into a legal marriage. If the couple does not qualify for marriage in the state of Florida, the non-married couple must make other arrangements in order to obtain legal rights and benefits.
Domestic partner laws have particular significance with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community since, as opposed to heterosexual couples, same-sex couples cannot be legally married in Florida. Therefore, in Florida, LGBT couples are prevented from obtaining the legal status of a married couple and without recognition of domestic partnerships, they do not have access to spousal benefits, assets and planning for a crisis situation such as death or illness of a partner.
Domestic partner benefits have been introduced in certain counties and cities in the state of Florida. These locations may offer rights and benefits to persons living there as domestic partners. Miami-Dade, South Miami and Boward counties, and the cities of Miami Beach, Miami, North Miami and West Palm Beach have begun recognizing domestic partnerships. The couple must file a domestic partner declaration in those locations in order to qualify, and the benefits are only valid within that jurisdiction.
Another option for a couple living as domestic partners is working for a company that has domestic partner benefits. There are no specific requirements or definitions of "domestic partner" that must be used on a widespread basis. Each employer can choose to offer benefits to domestic partners and can create its own definition of "domestic partner" for use with benefits eligibility. According to Find Law, most employers that extend benefits to domestic partners require that the two people be financially interdependent, be in a committed, exclusive relationship and be of legal age to marry.
There are certain steps that a couple can take, if they do not qualify for marriage in Florida, to gain additional legal protection. According to the Human Rights Campaign, in times of crisis, such as illness or death, having legal documents filed with an attorney that make the wishes of the individual known, is vital in making sure that the couple is protected. These documents include: Domestic Partnership Agreement, Co-Parent Agreement, Durable Power of Attorney, Last Will and Testament and Hospital Visitation Authorization.
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