Understanding Domestic Partnerships and Domestic Partner Insurance

How to Get Coverage

This illustration describes documentation that can help prove domestic partnership including "Shared ownership of a car or other property," "Proof of joint accounts (bank, credit, loans)," "Designation of primary beneficiary on benefits and wills," "Driver's licenses sharing a common address," and "Assignment of power of attorneys."

The Balance / Bailey Mariner

The definition of a domestic partnership is when two people live together and are involved in an interpersonal relationship sharing their domestic life as if married, however they are not legally married. 

Domestic partner (DP) is a term that refers to an unmarried partner of the same or opposite sex.

Domestic partner is a term often used in health insurance to describe who may be covered by a family health policy. The term may also be referred to as Qualified Domestic Partners (QDP).

Being in a domestic partnership involves being in a committed relationship. You can not be married to another (third) person, and still be considered a domestic partner. The domestic partnership refers to a couple. For health insurance or group benefits purposes, there are specific qualifications and criteria that have to be met in order for people to be considered domestic partners.  

What Is Domestic Partner Insurance?

Domestic Partner Insurance or Domestic Partner Health Insurance is when an insurance contract extends the definition of spouse to recognize domestic partners. As a result, the health insurance benefits may be extended to the unmarried partner and their children. Couples are able to share insurance under a domestic partner insurance coverage just as a married couple would. The biggest benefit being a reduced insurance rate and the ability to be eligible for the employee benefit package.

Who Qualifies as a Domestic Partner?

Since there are no current federal guidelines that state what a domestic partnership is, that answer is up to each individual state. It is becoming common practice for states to recognize a domestic partnership as: A committed couple in a relationship similar to a marriage, but with no official marriage license.

The couple would have similar characteristics of a marriage such as sharing a common residence and financial responsibility.

How to Prove You're a Domestic Partner for Domestic Partner Health Insurance

You may have to sign a form available from your health insurance administrator or employee benefits plan administrator that includes several declarations confirming the following about you and your partner:

  • The same regular and permanent residence for at least six months, to a year (depending on the insurance company) with the current intent to continue doing so indefinitely
  • Are known as being in a relationship in the public eye
  • Neither person is married to someone other than the domestic partner and neither person is in a domestic partnership with another person
  • Are jointly financially responsible for "basic living expenses," defined as the cost of basic food, shelter and any other expenses of a domestic partner because of the domestic partnership. This may require you to prove this by showing documentation

Documentation That May Help Prove Domestic Partnership via Shared Financial Responsibility Declarations

Although not all these items may be required, you may have to show some of these to prove your "domestic partnership" under some health care policies.

  • Common ownership of a car or other property (joint deed or mortgage agreement) 
  • Driver's licenses listing a common address
  • Proof of joint bank accounts or credit card accounts and loans
  • Designation as the primary beneficiary for life insurance, retirement benefits, or under a partner's will
  • Assignment of power of attorneys

Are Children of Domestic Partners Covered Under Domestic Partner Plans?

If the health insurance company recognizes you as a qualified domestic partner, then your children will be eligible for benefits under the family benefits. For the purpose of domestic partner insurance, the definition of children insured on the health plan may include:

  • biological children
  • stepchildren
  • legally-adopted children

Depending on the type of health insurance you have, conditions may be different. You may ask your health insurance plan administrator to clarify the coverage specifically for any special situation to be sure the children are properly covered. Normally when the form is completed to request recognition as a qualified domestic partner, there is information to be filled in regarding children.

How Can You Add a Domestic Partner to a Current Health Insurance Plan?

Although every insurance plan is different, ask your benefits plan administrator to find out the specifics and make your formal request so that your partner may be added as soon as possible. Most employer health plans will allow the addition of a domestic partner if the plan includes this kind of coverage. 

How Do I Evaluate Domestic Partner Insurance?

Evaluating domestic partner insurance requires the same research as evaluating the purchase of any type of health insurance. Taking the time to understand and review a health insurance policy thoroughly is important and will help you get the most out of your insurance. Using the Health Insurance 101 article will help with information on understanding your health insurance policy terms.

How Do I Find a Domestic Partner Insurance Health Benefit Plan?

The first step would be to start with your employee benefits health insurance plan at work. You can contact your HR person or the insurance company directly and ask them if you can insure your domestic partner on your employee health insurance plan and if so, what steps you need to take to get started. If your employer's health insurance plan does not provide domestic partner insurance, you can check with a private company. 

Domestic Partner Benefits Are Important In Society

The definition of domestic partner in health insurance benefits has become necessary and it important because over the years more and more Americans choose to live in co-habitative long-term relationships, but do not choose to be legally or religiously "married". This is important for same-sex couples to ensure they can also have a chance at the same types of benefits that opposite-sex domestic partner couples benefit from.

Can You Get Domestic Partnership Benefits If Not Considered Married for Income Tax Purposes?

Recently a reader asked the question about whether they could still benefit from domestic partner health insurance if they were not declaring themselves married for income tax purposes. People have many reasons to strategically manage their financial and legal marriage status. The IRS website states that there are circumstances where people may be registered domestic partners, but not considered as married or spouses for income tax purposes. You can learn more about that and other tax situations that may concern you by checking the IRS site. Every situation is different so be sure and inform yourself of your own state laws and get advice from a professional.

Also note that if you are newly qualified for being a domestic partner , you may qualify for a change in health plan under special enrollment periods when you have a qualifying life event.

Modern Families and Domestic Partner Health Insurance

Historically, when a couple shared an insurance plan they had to be married. However, from 2000 to 2008, there was a 15.7% increase in unmarried-partner, opposite sex households. Among young adults ages 18-24, cohabitation is now more common than living with a spouse. And 15% of young adults ages 25-34 lived with an unmarried partner in 2018, up from 12% in 2008. It is understandable how forward-thinking employers and insurance companies evolved health benefits coverage over time to include domestic partners and offer coverage to non-traditional families.

The Impact of Same-Sex Marriage Legislation on Domestic Partner Insurance Benefits

Traditionally, some employers offered domestic partner insurance to same-sex couples because they could not be legally married. According to human resource consulting firm Aon Hewitt, 77% of large employers offer domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples. 

For more info, check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics table on unmarried domestic partner benefits across private companies.

In 2015, some companies did remove the domestic partner health insurance benefits for their employees in order to give them time to "get married," under the logic that if people wanted to be married, they now legally could and the fact that opposite-sex employees had not been benefiting from the Domestic partner coverage, therefore this would seem fair.

Can Your Employer Force You to Get Married to Get Employee Health Benefits?

An employer obviously can not force you to get married, and a person should never get married just because they want health benefits.

Do Domestic Partner Benefits Cost an Employer More Money?

As shared by the Human Rights Campaign, several studies by Hewitt Associates provide data that has shown that the cost of unmarried spouses does not increase costs more than 1% to 3% for an employer and that the actual costs for domestic partner benefits are the same as those of married employee "spousal" benefits.

Employee benefits are meant to attract and keep good employees, and maybe this is where the employer focus should be when they consider offering Domestic Partner Benefits.

What to Do If You Need Domestic Partner Benefits and Your Employer Won't Provide Them

If your employer does not provide domestic partner benefits, you could see if your partner's employer does. Failing this, you could look to find your own health benefits package from an insurer who offers Domestic Partner Health Insurance. Once you have alternate benefits, if they provide you better or more coverage, and after carefully reviewing the details you have the option to request to sign a waiver of health insurance benefits and try and negotiate alternate compensation from your employer.  

Can You Ask Your Employer to Add Domestic Partner Benefits to a Plan?

Yes! You may also try and ask your employer to add domestic partner benefits to your company health insurance plan using the data we discussed above. Statistically, it will not cost them much more if anything. The coverage for domestic partners can be added by most employee health benefit plans very easily.