Family attorney in Raleigh for domestic partnershipsIf you are in a long-term relationship with a partner but are not married, it is important for you both to work with a family law attorney in Raleigh to help you protect your assets and property. At Kirk, Kirk, Howell, Cutler, & Thomas, we work with both same-sex and heterosexual couples in Raleigh who choose a domestic partnership rather than a legal marriage, and we help them protect their future through legal documentation regarding property, custody, and other domestic issues related to family law.

What is a Domestic Partnership?

Domestic partnership, often called a civil union, is an alternative to legal marriage for couples living together. When recognized by the state, domestic partnership extends the same benefits as marriage, including health insurance, family leave, bereavement leave, and inheritance rights.

Prior to the 2015 Supreme Court case, Obergefell v. Hodges which legalized same-sex marriage, many same sex couples relied on domestic partnerships to achieve the benefits of marriage, though both heterosexual and same-sex couples relied on domestic partnership laws where it was recognized by their state.

Domestic Partnership Laws in North Carolina

The state of North Carolina does not recognize domestic partnerships in any capacity, meaning couples who live together but are not married aren’t legally guaranteed similar rights of married couples. However, many businesses and municipal governments do offer benefits and extend healthcare coverage to domestic partners and multiple cities recognize domestic partnerships, including Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

Understanding Common Law Marriage in North Carolina

For those in long-term relationships who live with their partner, you may refer to your relationship as a “common law marriage.” In some states, couples who outwardly present themselves as married and refer to themselves as spouses for a set period of time, even though they haven’t formally filed a marriage license, may receive recognition as a married couple.

This allows them the same benefits as marriage, including property division rights, inheritance, and benefits. However, North Carolina does not recognize a common law marriage and offers no benefit to couples living together.

The only exception to this is when a couple moves from a state that does recognize common law marriage, the couple received recognition as a marriage of common law, and the Court of North Carolina can establish a date of declaration of common law marriage.

Domestic Partnerships and Family Law in Raleigh

Because North Carolina does not recognize a domestic partnership or common law marriage, it’s important to work with a Raleigh family attorney to help you and your partner protect your property, assets, and future.


In the event you and your partner separate, the equitable distribution laws are not applicable. Having legal documentation like a separation agreement as to how to divide property and assets can prevent lengthy and costly litigation.


Should a partner pass away without a will, his or her estate would pass to surviving relatives as defined by North Carolina’s succession and inheritance laws. Having estate planning for you and your partner can ensure your property goes to your partner.


While North Carolina laws allow for custody in the event that one spouse passes away or the couple separates, those same protections don’t exist for a couple.

Other Areas Of Family Law

Contact a Family Lawyer in Raleigh to Help You with Domestic Partnership

If you are in a domestic partnership, a family attorney with Kirk, Kirk, Howell, Cutler, & Thomas can help protect your rights and property. We will work with you to create contracts and documentation necessary to ensure your wishes and needs are met. Call us today at (919) 615-2473 to schedule a consultation!

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