2024 Domestic Partnerships vs. Marriage in North Carolina – What Is the Difference?

Many states in the Union treat domestic partnerships and marriage similarly, but that’s not true in all states. For most of the country, domestic partnerships are legally binding contracts, but in North Carolina, these protections are only given to married couples. In fact, people in domestic partnerships do not have any of the benefits that come with marriage. People who live together but aren’t married must create their own contracts in order to protect their union.

Buying property, issues with inheritance, child support, and end-of-life decisions are just a few of the kinds of issues people in a domestic partnership may have to think about if they are in a domestic partnership in North Carolina. If you’re in a domestic partnership in the state are have concerns about the legality of certain aspects of your relationship, contact our firm. We can ensure you are protected and help develop legally binding contracts for your particular situation.

What Is a Domestic Partnership?

In North Carolina, a domestic partnership is a long-term relationship in which an adult couple lives together for an indefinite duration of time but is not married. It is not a legally binding contract, which offers protection for both partners. People in a domestic partnership may confront challenges when it comes to decision-making for their family and protecting their assets, which is why having an experienced attorney is so crucial.

North Carolina is an equitable distribution state, which means it is presumed that married individuals will see a 50/50 distribution of assets in the event of divorce. This presumption does not apply to people who are in a domestic partnership, which can make dividing assets and property difficult if the partnership is to dissolve. Likewise, those in a domestic partnership who have children can also face complex child custody issues.

To confront complicated legal obstacles, people in a domestic partnership may choose to draw up contracts to lay out important information like end-of-life wishes and property division plans in case of separation. Contacting a lawyer to assist with such contracts, estate planning, or family law issues like child custody can help avoid lengthy proceedings in an event like separation or death.

What Is a Marriage?

In North Carolina, a marriage is a legally binding civil contract between two adults. Minors aged 16 to 18 can get married if they have their guardian’s consent. Couples who want to get married in North Carolina must apply for a marriage license that is valid for 60 days after it is issued. Then, the couple has a marriage ceremony, after which the magistrate presents them with a marriage certificate. After the couple receives the marriage certificate, they must return the marriage license to the registrar of deeds office within ten days.

In North Carolina, marriage is a legally recognized union, so people who are married are entitled to benefits like the following: 

  • Employment benefits
  • Estate planning benefits
  • Marital tax deductions and joint tax filing
  • Medical decision-making
  • Property rights
  • Shared health insurance
  • Social Security benefits

Marriage can provide many benefits for couples, but it is more complicated to dissolve a marriage than a domestic partnership, especially when there are children, multiple properties, and high net worth involved.

Unlike ending a domestic partnership, ending a marriage involves filing for divorce. Although people do not anticipate divorce when they get married, if it does happen, it can be complicated and emotional. Contacting a divorce attorney is important, as they can provide support and guidance through the divorce. At Lassiter & Lassiter, our team of divorce attorneys can work to help you achieve the greatest possible outcome.

FAQs About Domestic Partnerships vs. Marriage in North Carolina

How Is a Domestic Partnership Different From Marriage?

A domestic partnership is different from a marriage because it is not a legally binding contract. There are some states that provide benefits and protections associated with marriage to people in domestic partnerships. North Carolina does not provide any benefits to people in domestic partnerships, so it can be useful to contact a lawyer to help you understand and protect your rights and assets in a domestic partnership.

What Are the Benefits of Domestic Partnerships in North Carolina?

A domestic partnership is not a legally binding contract like marriage, which gives people flexibility, especially during separation. If married couples want to separate, they have to go through a divorce, which can be lengthy and complicated, particularly when there are children involved. However, the equitable distribution presumption does not apply to people in a domestic partnership, so if there is conflict over the division of assets like property, separation can be difficult.

Does North Carolina Recognize Domestic Partnerships?

No, the state of North Carolina does not recognize domestic partnerships in any capacity. This means that people who are involved in a domestic partnership in the state of North Carolina are not entitled to any of the protections and benefits associated with marriage, like family leave or marital tax deductions.

What Is the Legal Definition of a Domestic Partner in North Carolina?

The state of North Carolina does not recognize domestic partnerships, and therefore you cannot file for a domestic partnership the way you can in some other states. The only option for people who want a legally official relationship in North Carolina is to get married. If you are considering the benefits of marriage and domestic partnerships, contacting a lawyer with knowledge of family law can be useful and help you make an informed decision.

Legal Assistance for Relationships in North Carolina

Not all attorneys are created equal. If you are in a domestic partnership and need help building contracts or dissolving your partnership, we have the skills, experience, and compassion to help. We can help you review the details of your unique situation and provide informed guidance while evaluating your legal options. No matter the form of your relationship, our firm can find the legal solution that most fits your unique needs. Contact us today for assistance with any inquiries.

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Attorney Mike Lassiter grew up in Statesville, makes his living serving the people of Statesville and published a book capturing the changing landscape of small town life across North Carolina and Iredell County. His keen sense of history, dedication to the area and 30 years of legal experience make him an ideal attorney for your legal needs.

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