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Domestic Partnership vs Marriage in Texas: What Are the Differences?

Sophia Merton
May 2, 2024

There are many couples out there that aren’t particularly interested in gaining legal recognition for their relationship, even if they plan on sticking it out for the long haul. If you’re wondering whether or not it’s worth it to actually tie the knot, though, you’ll want to stick around while we compare domestic partnership vs marriage in Texas.

Even though some say that marriage is “just a piece of paper,” the truth is that there are some pretty important benefits and responsibilities that come along with this type of legal union.

What exactly are the differences, though, between a marriage and a domestic partnership? How can you determine which type of union is right for you and your significant other?

Let’s take a closer look at the answers to these questions and more.

What Is a Domestic Partnership in Texas?

Firstly, let’s define what exactly a domestic partnership is in the Lone Star State.

couple in domestic partnership vs marriage in texas


In Texas, a domestic partnership is generally understood as a formal arrangement between two adults who live together and share a domestic life but are not married.

Unlike marriage, domestic partnerships are not recognized at the state level in Texas, meaning there is no statewide legal framework governing them. However, some local jurisdictions and private entities within Texas may offer domestic partnership registrations, providing a way for couples to access certain benefits that are otherwise typically reserved for married couples.

If you’re curious to learn more about other alternative arrangements for couples in Texas, check out the following guides:

What Is a Marriage in Texas?

Of course, there is hardly a soul in the US that doesn’t know what marriage is. At the same time, it’s important for us to create a concise definition of marriage in Texas so as to make a clear distinction between marriage and domestic partnerships.

couple in domestic partnership vs marriage in texas

In short, marriage is a legally recognized union between two individuals that establishes rights and obligations between them, as well as between them and their children, and between them and their in-laws. Marriage in Texas is governed by state laws and provides various legal protections and benefits.

What’s the Difference Between a Domestic Partnership and Marriage in Texas?

Now that we have defined both marriage and domestic partnerships in Texas, let’s take a look at the most important differences between these two types of unions.

Legal Recognition

When two people get married, they are entering a legally recognized union between two individuals, irrespective of gender. The “irrespective of gender” part of this definition is a result of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges. This ruling ensures that marriage rights and responsibilities are consistent across all states, including Texas.

couple in domestic partnership vs marriage in texas

On the other hand, Texas does not have a statewide legal status for domestic partnerships. However, some cities and counties in Texas, as well as some private employers, offer domestic partnership registrations that make it possible for individuals in domestic partnerships to have access to certain benefits. At the same time, it’s important to understand that these are not uniformly recognized and are less formal than marriage.


Another important distinction in regard to the differences between marriage and domestic partnerships has to do with access to benefits.

Getting married provides a wide range of state and federal benefits, including:

  • Tax benefits such as filing joint tax returns
  • Social Security, Medicare, and disability benefits for spouses
  • Rights to inherit property without a will
  • Spousal support upon divorce
  • Rights to make medical decisions for a spouse if they become incapacitated.

Being in a domestic partnership doesn’t give you nearly as many benefits as marriage. Any benefits that a couple might be able to access in a domestic partnership are limited and can vary significantly depending on the local jurisdiction or the specific policies of your employer.

Some of the benefits that two people in a domestic partnership might enjoy include:

  • Health insurance coverage through a partner’s employer
  • Visitation rights in hospitals and jails


While there are benefits to being married over being in a domestic partnership, there are also more responsibilities that come along with a marital union rather than a less formal domestic partnership.

couple in domestic partnership vs marriage in texas

Married couples have legally defined responsibilities to each other, which include financial support and rights to property during and after the relationship in the case of divorce.

On the other hand, there are typically fewer automatic legal responsibilities compared to marriage for those in a domestic partnership, especially concerning financial support and rights if and when the relationship dissolves.

Dissolving the Relationship

Another important thing to understand about the difference between marriage and domestic partnerships is what the process is like if you were ever to dissolve the relationship.

Divorce in marriage is a legal process that addresses division of property, spousal support, and if applicable, child custody and support. If you’re looking for more information about what the process of divorce looks like, make sure you check out some of our guides:

The process for ending a domestic partnership can be less complex than a divorce, primarily because fewer legal ties need to be addressed. At the same time, this can also mean less protection for each party in terms of the division of assets or support.

Recognition at the Federal Level

Finally, it’s also crucial to understand the ways that marriage and domestic partnership are viewed in the eyes of the federal government.

Essentially, marriage is federally recognized, which is important for federal tax purposes and immigration benefits. Domestic partnerships, on the other hand, are not recognized by the federal government. This means that federal benefits available to married couples aren’t available to domestic partners.

Are There Any Benefits to Being in a Domestic Partnership Rather Than a Marriage in Texas?

In Texas, the choice between entering a domestic partnership and getting married primarily depends on the particulars of a couple's needs and wants, which include personal, financial, and social considerations.

  • Domestic partnerships offer some specific benefits, but generally, they are far less comprehensive compared to the legal protections and benefits of marriage.

In what circumstances might a couple choose to stay in a domestic partnership rather than technically tying the knot?

Let’s look at a few scenarios where choosing a domestic partnership might be preferable for some couples.

Flexibility and Simplicity

One reason that a couple might choose a domestic partnership over a marriage is that it involves less legal formality than marriage. For some couples, particularly those who wish to avoid the traditional or legal implications of marriage, a domestic partnership might offer a simpler alternative.

Moreover, ending a domestic partnership can be less complex and costly than a divorce, especially since fewer legal rights and responsibilities are usually involved.

Employer Benefits

Depending on your employer, it’s possible that you and your partner can both receive benefits even if you aren’t legally married.

Some employers in Texas may extend health benefits to domestic partners that are not legally available to other non-married cohabitants. At the same time, you’ll want to consider the long-term implications of choosing to remain domestic partners rather than married in terms of potential employer or career changes down the road.

Personal Reasons

There are also plenty of more personal reasons that a couple might choose to be in a domestic partnership rather than a marriage. Some individuals may prefer a domestic partnership due to personal beliefs or social reasons which could lead them to avoid getting legally married.

It can also sometimes be the case that individuals who have had negative experiences with marriage in the past, such as a particularly nasty and contentious divorce, might prefer a domestic partnership as it generally helps avoid a lengthy legal battle if the relationship were to end.

Legal Independence

Finally, some couples might choose to maintain financial and legal autonomy for a number of reasons.

In a domestic partnership, individuals can ultimately retain more autonomy over their finances and assets compared to marriage, where laws around community property and spousal support come into play upon dissolution.

Limitations and Disadvantages

While there are some reasons a couple might choose to be in a domestic partnership rather than a marriage, it's important to note the limitations and potential disadvantages of domestic partnerships in Texas.

Here are some things you’ll want to be aware of:

  • Lack of statewide legal recognition: Unlike marriage, domestic partnerships do not provide a statewide legal framework, meaning the legal protections and responsibilities are significantly reduced
  • No federal benefits: Domestic partners do not have access to federal benefits linked to marriage, such as Social Security survivor's benefits, federal tax benefits, and more
  • Limited legal protections: Without the broader protections that marriage laws provide, partners may find themselves without support in areas such as property rights, inheritance, and decision-making in health emergencies

Navigating Family Law in Texas

Comparing domestic partnership vs marriage in Texas might seem like semantics at first, but the truth is there are some very important distinctions to be made between the two. While it’s often said that getting married is an enormous decision, it’s worth pointing out that the decision to not get married can be just as impactful.

Are you looking for help navigating the world of family law in Texas? If so, make sure you check out the rest of our Texas Divorce blog.

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Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is a researcher and writer that aims to help make the complexities of the legal system understandable to the layperson. Believing that people can be empowered by understanding their rights and responsibilities under the law, Sophia aims to offer accurate and well-researched information in straightforward and easy-to-digest legal articles.

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