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Domestic Partnership
The Wisconsin Approach
© October 10, 2010, Demian

Wisconsin offers the some of the spousal rights to same-sex couples that are offered to legally married opposite-sex couples. This status became law on June 29, 2009. It took effect on August 3, 2009.

Domestic partnerships provide couples about 43 rights and responsibilities, compared to more than the 200 that are granted to married couples. Domestic partnership is not “substantially similar” to, nor a substitute for, legal marriage.


On June 29th, 2009, Wisconsin Governor Doyle signed domestic partnerships into law. It is the first state in the Midwest to legislatively enact protections for same-sex couples. It was made possible by action from thousands of grassroots statewide advocates, joining Fair Wisconsin in lobbying their legislators, telling their story, and never giving up on the quest for fairness.
Right-Wing Extremists

The anti-gay Wisconsin Family Action filed a lawsuit against the state, in 2009, arguing that the domestic partnership law is a violation of the 2006 anti-gay constitutional amendment which bars marriage equality and recognition of any legal status that is “substantially similar” to marriage. After the State Attorney General announced that his office would not defend the state against the claim, Governor Doyle appointed special counsel to represent the state. The Wisconsin Supreme Court rejected the case.

On August 18, 2010, the Wisconsin Family Action and the Alliance Defense Fund filed a new challenge to the domestic partnership registry.
Registration Numbers

From August 1-December 31, 2009, 1,329 domestic partnerships were filed. 929 were for female partners, and 400 were filed by male partners.

As of October 10, 2010, there have been nearly 15,000 Domestic Partnership registrations were filed.

Wisconsin Domestic Partner Benefits

  • A surviving domestic partner:
    • inherits from the estate of domestic partner who dies without a will;
    • can be awarded the couple’s home and vehicles that are titled in the name of the deceased partner, as well as personal and household items of the deceased partner, by a probate court;
    • may have certain protections against creditors;
    • can transfer a deceased partner’s assets to the surviving partner without probate if the total value is less than $50,000;
    • can receive death benefits if the deceased partner was killed in a workplace accident, with special benefits if the partner was a police officer or firefighters killed in the line of duty;
    • can get victim compensation if the deceased partner was injured or killed while trying to prevent a crime or assist a law enforcement officer;
    • can sue for a partner’s wrongful death.
  • Family and Medical Leave
    • Employees who are covered by the state Family Medical Leave Act may take up to 2 weeks off per year to care for a domestic partner with a serious medical condition.
  • Medical, Hospital, and Visitation Rights
    • Domestic partners get certain privileges in medical settings to visit, admit an incapacitated partner to a health care facility, share a nursing home room, and access mental health records. These apply to hospitals, hospice facilities, group homes, nursing homes, and residential care facilities.
    • If a domestic partner dies, the surviving partner can consent to organ donation or autopsy.
    • Please note: these privileges are limited and do not take the place of having a health care power of attorney, disposition on death authorization, HIPAA authorization, and similar documents that provide much stronger protections.
  • Other Protections
    • A domestic partner can to prevent his or her partner or former partner from testifying against the person as to private communications during the partnership.
    • Transfers of real estate between domestic partners are exempt from the real estate transfer fee, as well as car and boat titles.


  • Be at least 18 years old.
  • Both be members of the same-sex.
  • Share a common residence. (note: not required of legal marriage)
  • Not be nearer of kin than second cousins.
  • Not be married or in another domestic partnership.

Registration Process

Domestic partnerships are administered at the county level. In order to obtain a domestic partnership, committed same-sex couples in long term relationships go to the county clerk’s office in the county where at least one of the partners resides. The parties must complete a legal affidavit, sign it, and pay a fee.

Bring the following documents to the county clerk’s office:

  • Proof of residence and identification.
  • Certified copies of birth certificates and Social Security numbers.
  • For people who have been previously married, a certified death certificate or divorce judgment is required.
Fees vary between the different counties in the state and will be similar or identical to the fees for marriage licenses in that county. The clerk will issue a declaration of domestic partnership after a 5-day waiting period. The county may waive this waiting period for a fee of up to $10.

No Privacy

Domestic partnership registrations are handled as “vital records.” This means that, while the documents are not open to anyone who might want to see them, certain people, including some family members and governmental officials, will have access to those records.


Domestic partnerships can be dissolved through a legal termination process at the county clerk’s office, beginning with the filing of a notice of termination of domestic partnership and paying a fee. The terminating partner has the responsibility to inform the other partner of the termination.

Wisconsin’s Web Site

      Request for a Copy of a Declaration of Domestic Partnership

      Wisconsin Declaration of Domestic Partnership Application

      Full summary of the domestic partnership protections: Legislative Fiscal Bureau paper

      Request for a Copy of a Termination of Domestic Partnership Certificate

Fair Wisconsin’s Web Site

      Fair Wisconsin Inc.
      122 State St., #500, Madison, Wisconsin 53703
      Political action, education, grassroots organizing, and outreach the cause of lesbian, gay,
      bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) equality. Web site has a “Domestic Partnership Reference Guide,”
      and list of “Wisconsin Employers Offering Domestic Partner Benefits.”

For a vast survey, please see our:
Legal Marriage Report: Global Status of Legal Marriage

Return to: Domestic Partnership Benefits

Governments that offer Full Legal Marriage

Netherlands (2001)
Belgium (2003)
Canada (2005)
Spain (2005)
South Africa (2005)
Norway (2009)
Sweden (2009)
Iceland (2010)
Argentina (2010)
Portugal (2010)
Denmark (2012)
France (2013)
New Zealand (2013)
Brazil (2013)
Uruguay (2013)
New Zealand (2013)
United Kingdom
(England, Wales, Scotland) (2013)
Luxembourg (2014)
Finland (2014)
Ireland (2015)
United States (2015)
Colombia (2016)
Germany (2017)
Taiwan (2017)
Malta (2017)
Australia (2017)
US States & Territories
U.S. Supreme Court, June 26, 2015 Ruling: All U.S. States must allow same-sex couples legal marriage.

Massachusetts (2004)
California (2008)
Connecticut (2008)
Iowa (2009)
Vermont (2009)
New Hampshire (2009)
District of Columbia (2009)
New York (2011)
Maine (2012)
Washington (2012)
Maryland (2013)
Rhode Island (2013)
Delaware (2013)
Minnesota (2013)
Illinois (2013)
Utah (2013)
New Jersey (2013)

Hawaii (2013)
New Mexico (2013)
Michigan (2014) - stayed pending legal challenge
Oregon (2014)
Wisconsin (2014) Arkansas (2014) - stayed pending legal challenge
Pennsylvania (2014)
Indiana (2014)
Nevada (2014)
Virginia (2014)
Oklahoma (2014)
Idaho (2014)
West Virginia (2014)
Alaska (2014)
Arizona (2014)
Wyoming (2014)
Kansas (2014) - stayed pending legal challenge
Florida (2014)
Colorado (2014)
North Carolina (2014)
South Carolina (2014)
Montana (2014)
Alabama (2015)
Native American Tribes

Coquille Tribe, Oregon (2009)
Mashantucket Pequot, Connecticut (2011)
Suquamish Tribe, Washington (2011)
Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Washington (2013)
Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Minnesota (2013)
Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, Michigan (2013)
Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, Michigan (2013)
Santa Ysabel Tribe, California (2013)
Confederated Tribes of the Colville Nation, Washington (2013)
Cheyenne, Oklahoma (2013)
Arapaho, Oklahoma (2013)
Leech Lake Tribal Court, Minnesota (2013)
Puyallup Tribe, Washington (2914)
Wind River Indian Reservation, Wyoming (2014)
Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Michigan (2014)
Colville Confederated Tribes, Washington (2014)
Central Council of Tlingit, Alaska (2015)
Haida Indian Tribes, Alaska (2015)

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