A Guide to Domestic Partnerships in Pennsylvania

Schwartz, Fox & Saltzman, LLC. – Philadelphia Divorce Lawyers

If you are an unmarried couple living in Pennsylvania, you may be wondering what legal options are available to protect your rights and assets. Entering into a Pennsylvania domestic partnership can offer you some of the same rights and legal protections you would be entitled to in a formal marriage. As domestic partnerships’ laws are not as developed as those addressing marriage, you should consult the experienced Philadelphia family law attorneys at the Schwartz, Fox, & Saltzman law firm before entering into a domestic partnership.

In this article, our family law lawyers provide an overview of the legal landscape surrounding domestic partnerships and cohabitation agreements in Pennsylvania and explain how you can safeguard your interests.

The State of Pennsylvania as a Whole Doesn’t Recognize Domestic Partnerships

Pennsylvania law does not recognize domestic partnerships, i.e., there is no statutory definition of a Pennsylvania domestic partnership. However, there are still legal options for unmarried same sex and opposite couples who wish to protect their rights and assets. Depending on the County or city you reside in, you can enter into a domestic partnership based on your local laws. 

Some Pennsylvania Cities Do Recognize Domestic Partnerships

Although Pennsylvania state law does not recognize domestic partnerships, some cities offer certain protections and benefits to unmarried couples registering as domestic partners. Specifically, cities and counties such as:

  • City of Harrisburg (Available to same-sex and opposite-sex couples)
  • City of Pittsburgh (limited to same-sex couples)
  • City of Allentown (limited to same-sex couples and requires one individual to be a city employee)
  • City of Philadelphia (Available to same-sex and opposite-sex couples)
  • Luzerne County (limited to same-sex couples)

Even if your jurisdiction does not offer domestic partnership benefits, you can still protect your legal rights via a domestic partnership agreement. 

Cohabitation Agreements Explained

A cohabitation agreement, which is also known as a domestic partnership agreement, is a legal agreement which can provide protections and benefits similar to those provided by marriage. Stated simply, a domestic partnership agreement is a legal agreement between two people who enter into a domestic partnership. Domestic partnership agreements protect the rights of same sex and opposite sex couples by addressing issues such as:

  • Defining joint vs. separate property
  • Distributing assets and real property including the family home
  • Assigning the rights and responsibilities for debt
  • Child custody
  • Assigning the rights and responsibilities for other parenting issues
  • Power of attorney and advanced directives for healthcare decisions

Ending a Domestic Partnership in PA

Unmarried couples who are not in domestic partnerships or who did not sign cohabitation agreements have minimal legal protections in Pennsylvania with regard to protecting property and assets. This is because how property is titled determines ownership. A well-drafted cohabitation agreement can provide a clear process for distributing property and debts, along with addressing other issues such as child support and other financial expenses.

Getting Help from an Experienced Family Law Attorney

Navigating the legal complexities of domestic partnerships and cohabitation agreements in Pennsylvania can be challenging. The experienced family law lawyers at the law firm of Schwartz, Fox, & Saltzman have been handling cases involving family law matters in Pennsylvania for over 40 years. Contact us today for a free consultation regarding the benefits of domestic partnership agreements.

Summary Domestic Partnerships in Philadelphia

Domestic partnerships allow unmarried individuals who enter into relationships with certain legal protections. While Pennsylvania law does not recognize domestic partnerships, unmarried couples can still enter into a domestic partnership in certain jurisdictions and obtain virtually the same benefits as opposite sex married couples. Additionally, an unmarried same sex or opposite sex couple can also protect their legal rights by preparing a domestic partnership agreement.

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