Real Estate and the Differences between Marriage, Domestic Partnerships, and Civil Unions
If you’re purchasing real estate with your partner, you may be unprepared for the many different laws concerning who actually owns the property and how things are divided. That’s because things differ from state to state. However, most state laws regarding same-sex couples and real estate can be divided into four categories depending on what the state offers.
In states where same-sex marriage is recognized, same-sex couples are treated exactly the same as opposite-sex couples. Married LGBT couples take title of the purchased property jointly and have all of the rights, protections, and obligations that straight couples have.
In the states with civil unions, LGBT couples have many of the same rights that opposite-sex couples have. They may hold property through tenancy by the entirety, which means they own it jointly without the need to divide the property. One spouse may not sell their interest in the home without the other’s approval. Upon the death of one spouse, the survivor automatically gains the full rights to the house. Tenancy by entirety provides a number of other benefits that were previously only available to married opposite-sex couples.
The downside is that those in a civil union may not be able to receive all of the benefits that a marriage offers because a civil union is a fairly new concept and isn’t necessarily seen as being equal to a marriage.
Domestic partnerships provide some rights to couples who are unmarried. In most cases, the gender of the two people entering into the domestic partnership doesn’t matter. However, in some cases, these partnerships do not convey as many rights as a marriage or civil union. As of August 2014, three states offer domestic partnerships. In Oregon and Nevada, domestic partnerships are equal to marriages and provide all of the rights thereof. In Washington, however, domestic partnerships are only offered to couples who are over the age of 62 and do not provide any benefits in regards to property. The domestic partners are treated as separate, single people.
As of 2014, the majority of states do not recognize gay or lesbian marriages, civil unions, or domestic partnerships. In these states, same-sex couples receive no benefits or protections when purchasing real estate together. Since tenancy by entirety isn’t an option, these couples have to resort to tenants in common or purchase property as joint tenants with right of survivorship. While these options do offer some rights, they don’t provide the same rights or protection that married couples receive.