Chase, Berenstein and Murray, Counselors at Law provides collaborative divorce solutions to clients in San Mateo, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties.

The Complexity of Same-Sex Relationships and Legalities

The landscape of legal rights and responsibilities for same-sex couples has evolved significantly in recent years. The recognition of same-sex marriage in the US and registered domestic partnerships in CA has resulted in legal frameworks that ensure equality and protection.  Navigating the complexities of same-sex relationships, particularly if there is a divorce requiring the division of assets and allocation of income, can still pose challenges.

7 Things to Know About Same Sex Relationships According to California Law.

  1. Legal Equality in California: In California, whether a couple is formally married or in a registered domestic partnership, the divorce laws apply equally. The breakup of a registered domestic partnership is treated the same as a divorce, and community property laws apply. This means that the division of assets and retirement plans is similar to a heterosexual couple going through a divorce.  However, there may be exceptions when it comes to federal income tax on asset transfers and federally funded retirement plans, as the federal government does not recognize registered domestic partners as being married.
  2. Federal Recognition and Retirement Plans: For couples with federally funded retirement plans, such as those in the military or federal government employees, the division of community interest in these plans can be different. The federal government recognizes marriages, but not registered domestic partnerships. Therefore, if a registered domestic partner seeks to divide a federally funded retirement plan, it may require additional steps and considerations to ensure a fair distribution.
  3. Tax Consequences and Retirement Plans: Another aspect to consider are the tax consequences of dividing retirement plans. In cases where registered domestic partners are dividing their retirement plans under community property laws, the tax implications may be different when compared to married couples. The federal government treats the retirement distributions differently, which could result in the distributions being taxable as to the employee spouse, which could potentially include early distribution penalties. Adjustments should be made to reflect these tax consequences,. Seeking guidance from experts in dividing retirement plans for registered domestic partners is crucial to navigate these complexities.
  4. Unmarried Same-Sex Couples: For same-sex couples who are not married or registered as domestic partners, allocating assets and income can be even more challenging. When a couple co-owns property, have children together, but never married or registered, the allocation of assets becomes complex. Child custody, child support, and timeshare arrangements can be resolved similarly to married couples. However, dividing interests in real property and spousal support require more creativity in finding equitable resolutions.
  5. Creative Solutions using Collaborative Divorce and Mediation: Due to the limitations of the court system in addressing the specific needs of same-sex couples, collaborative divorce or mediation is often recommended. These alternative approaches allow couples to work together, with the assistance of legal professionals, to find mutually beneficial solutions regarding finances, asset division, and support. Collaborative models offer more flexibility to address the unique circumstances of same-sex relationships.
  6. Registering as a Domestic Partner: In California, there is no need for married couples to register as domestic partners. Since the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges case established marriage equality nationwide, being married provides the same legal rights and protections. Additionally, heterosexual couples are not eligible to register as domestic partners, except for couples over the age of 65.
  7. Dissolving Multiple Registrations: A unique situation arises for couples who have registered as domestic partners in multiple locations before the recognition of same-sex marriage. It is important to dissolve the registered domestic partnership in each registration location to avoid legal complications. Even if the couple is divorced in one state, they need to address the dissolution of other registrations to ensure a clean legal history.


While significant progress has been made in ensuring legal equality, specific challenges and nuances still exist. Seeking the advice of legal professionals experienced in dealing with same-sex relationship complexities is crucial to ensure a fair and successful resolution.

Contact Chase, Berenstein and Murray, Counselors at Law

For more information about dissolution of same sex relationships, and how the collaborative process works, contact us at Chase, Berenstein and Murray, Counselors at Law.