ABC delivered yet again with its November 7th episode from hit series “Brothers and Sisters”, “Resolved.” The episode centers on a dispute between domestic partners Kevin Walker (played by Matthew Rhys) and Scotty Wandell (played by Luke MacFarlane). Kevin is avoiding Scotty (and has been for two entire weeks) because Scotty cheated on him with another man.

A Clip of Kevin and Scotty Fighting

Throughout the episode Kevin and Scotty try to work through their dispute but Kevin is unsure if he will be able to get over the fact that Scotty has been unfaithful to him. Kevin suggests to Scotty the idea of  divorce. Kevin tells Scotty he will never be able to trust him again. Scotty pleads with Kevin to give him a chance to make things better, but Kevin refuses.

Kevin and Scotty live and were also married in California and thus are subject to California law. ABC lists Kevin and Scotty as “domestic partners” on their website. However, Kevin tells Scotty he has ruined their “marriage.” What’s the difference? Are “domestic partnerships” and “marriages” one in the same?

Two men may enter into a domestic partnership under California law. According to the California Family Code Section 297: “Domestic partners are two adults who have chosen to share one another’s lives in an intimate and committed relationship of mutual caring.” Once domestic partners file a Declaration of Domestic Partnership with the Secretary of State they are granted the same rights, opportunities, and obligations as heterosexual married couples have. California Family Code Section 297.5(a) states:

297.5.  (a) Registered domestic partners shall have the same rights,
protections, and benefits, and shall be subject to the same
responsibilities, obligations, and duties under law, whether they
derive from statutes, administrative regulations, court rules,
government policies, common law, or any other provisions or sources
of law, as are granted to and imposed upon spouses.

So, how exactly do you terminate a domestic partnership? California Family Code Section 299-299.3 governs the termination of domestic partnerships. LegalMatch.com explains the different ways in which Kevin may file for dissolution of his domestic partnership with Scotty:

There are two ways to terminate a domestic partnership in California.  First, if specific requirements are met, a domestic partnership may be terminated by filing a Notice of Termination of Domestic Partnership with the California Secretary of State.  In order to qualify, all of the following requirements must be met:

  1. Domestic partnership lasted less than 5 years
  2. No children born before or during the domestic partnership
  3. No children adopted during the domestic partnership
  4. Neither you or your partner are pregnant
  5. You and your partner do not have any interest in real estate
  6. Neither you nor your partner is renting any land or building
  7. Except for automobile loans, your community obligations do not exceed $5,000.
  8. Except for automobiles, your community property is worth less than $33,000.
  9. Except for automobiles, neither you nor your partner has separate property totaling more than $33,000.
  10. Both of you agree that you do not want money or support from the other partner except what is included in the property settlement agreement dividing the community property and community obligations.

Additionally, you or your partner must have lived in California for the last 6 months.

However, Kevin and Scotty do not qualify to terminate their domestic partnership by filing because they have interest in real estate together. LegalMatch.com tells us:

If any of these requirements are not met, you must initiate dissolution proceedings in the Superior Court.  You may file any one of the following three petitions: a Petition for Dissolution of Domestic Partnership; a Petition for Judgment of Nullity of Domestic Partnership; or a Petition for Legal Separation of Domestic Partnership.  These dissolution proceedings are similar to divorce.

You may be asking, if these proceedings are similar to divorce, what’s the real difference between marriages and domestic partnerships? About.com states there are three major differences between marriage and domestic partnerships in California:

  1. Marriage is not a second-class status. Studies have shown that marriage and civil unions or domestic partnerships are not equal.
  2. You don’t have to live in California to get a domestic partnership or to get married. You do not have to live in California to dissolve a domestic partnership, but if you want a California divorce, you have to live there for six months. If you are married in California, you most likely will not be able to get a divorce in your home state. From Melanie Rowen, NCLR staff attorney: “Also, and this is very important for couples from outside of California to understand, California courts have jurisdiction to dissolve domestic partnerships regardless of where the parties live. But CA courts DO NOT have jurisdiction to dissolve a marriage unless the parties meet the residency requirements for a CA divorce. Under CA law, a judgment of dissolution of marriage may not be entered unless one of the parties to the marriage has been a resident of California for at least six months and of the county in which they are filing for divorce for the three months before they file. This means that couples from other states who come to CA to get married will be unable to obtain a divorce in the event of a later break-up unless either (a) they actually move to CA or (b) their home state decides to recognize CA marriages.”
  3. From a practical stand point. It is easier to get a domestic partnership than it is to get married in California. In order to enter into a marriage, a couple must obtain a marriage license and ‘solemnize’ it – this requires having a ceremony with one to two official witnesses. Couples can enter a domestic partnership by filling out and mailing in a form, the notarized Declaration of Domestic Partnership. They do not need to obtain a license, have witnesses, or ‘solemnize’ the partnership with a ceremony.

In conclusion, it must be remembered domestic partnerships are governed by the same rules which apply to heterosexual marriages. California Family Code Section 297.5. In sum, terminations of domestic partnerships are just like divorces. According to CADivorceLawyer.com:

Two grounds for divorce exist in California – irreconcilable differences and incurable insanity. Divorce in California is no-fault, which means that one spouse can divorce the other without the other’s consent.

To be eligible to get a divorce in California, you or your spouse must have been residents of the state for the past six months and have lived in your county for three months before filing the petition for dissolution.

Therefore, Kevin could claim irreconcilable differences because he cannot trust Scotty anymore. Under California law, Kevin does not need Scotty’s consent to terminate the domestic partnership. According to CADivorceLawyer.com, “[t]he process of obtaining a divorce in California starts when you or your spouse files a petition for the dissolution. The other spouse will receive a notification summons of the divorce petition and be given 30 days to file a response.”

By the end of the episode, Kevin and Scotty decide to work things out for the time being. However, the ultimate future of their domestic partnership remains in limbo. However, in the end if Kevin decides to dissolve the partnership he must file a petition with the Superior Court of California because he does not qualify for termination by notice. Click here to watch the full episode of “Resolved.”