What are the legal implications of a civil union in Washington family law?

Understanding Civil Unions in Washington State

In Washington State, the concept of a civil union is not recognized in the same way it might be in other jurisdictions. Instead, Washington law provides for domestic partnerships and marriage, which include many of the same legal rights and responsibilities as a civil union might in other states. It's essential to understand the legal implications of these relationships in the context of family law.

Domestic Partnerships vs. Marriage

Historically, Washington introduced domestic partnerships in 2007 as a means to grant same-sex couples rights and benefits that were akin to marriage. However, with the legalization of same-sex marriage in Washington in 2012, and subsequent national recognition through the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015, the role of domestic partnerships has shifted.

Today, domestic partnerships in Washington are largely limited to senior couples (where at least one party is over the age of 62) and provide many of the same state-level legal rights and responsibilities as marriages. This includes property rights, inheritance rights, and the ability to make medical decisions for one's partner.

Legal Implications of Domestic Partnerships

The legal implications of entering into a domestic partnership are significant. Partners are granted rights akin to those afforded to married couples under state law. If the relationship ends, similar processes that apply to divorce—such as property division, spousal maintenance, and resolution of child custody—will generally apply to the dissolution of a domestic partnership.

In terms of healthcare, a domestic partner has the right to visit their partner in the hospital and make decisions on their behalf if they become incapacitated. Moreover, upon the death of one partner, the survivor may have rights to inheritance, even without a will, under Washington's intestacy laws.

Financial Implications

Domestic partners must also be aware of financial implications concerning taxes and benefits. They may not have access to all federal benefits that married couples enjoy since some federal programs do not recognize domestic partnerships. For instance, Social Security benefits may not be as readily transferable upon death or disability as they would be for a married couple.

Dissolution and Legal Disputes

Should a domestic partnership dissolve, issues such as asset division can be complex. Washington is a community property state, meaning that all property acquired during the partnership is presumed to be owned jointly. Legal disputes arising from separations can be quite intricate and generally require professional legal assistance.


While Washington does not recognize civil unions per se, its domestic partnership laws offer many similar protections and responsibilities at a state level. It is crucial for individuals entering into or dissolving such unions to understand their legal rights and obligations fully. Seeking legal advice from family law professionals who are well-versed in Washington State's regulations can help navigate these often complicated matters.