Darrin Ellis and David Arriaga were in a committed relationship for more than five years, and in 2003 met with their attorney to draft estate planning documents and a declaration of domestic partnership.
When Ellis tried to dissolve their relationship three years later, Arriaga requested that the court dismiss the case, saying their relationship wasn’t validly registered. The trial court agreed with Arriaga and dismissed the case. Ellis believed his domestic partnership was registered with the state, only to discover upon their separation that his partner never mailed the form.
Lambda Legal is arguing that individuals like Ellis with a good faith belief in the validity of their state registered domestic partnership should be protected and given access to family court during a separation the same way that spouses are protected under the “putative spouse doctrine.” This rule protects spouses from being treated as legal strangers, giving them access to a predictable system in family court for making a fair division of their property.
Registered domestic partners are supposed to have “the same” rights as spouses under California’s domestic partnership law, but Ellis’s case illustrates that the relegation of same-sex couples to a lesser family protection system like domestic partnership is inadequate to protect same-sex couples. Only access to marriage can provide full equality.