On June 30, 2014, State Registered Domestic Partners (SRDP) where both members of the couple are under 62, will convert to marriage. This applies to couples who registered in Washington State only. Registration with the City of Seattle or in another state will not automatically convert to marriage. If a couple is unsure if they are registered with Washington State, they can look it up here. If a couple is married in another state or country, where their marriage is legal, than that marriage is already recognized in Washington, and has been since December 6, 2012.
Under the current law, there is a quirk for couples who are in a civil union or a registered domestic partnership in another state, like Oregon. If the couple lives in Washington, but does not get married in Washington within a year of moving to Washington, Washington may not recognize their domestic partnership or Civil Union, meaning that they will essentially become legal strangers.
For couples who want to be married
For couples who want to be married through a ceremony, a marriage ceremony must be performed by June 30, 2014. Marriage laws in Washington require a couple to obtain a license at least three days prior to their marriage and no more than 60 days prior to the marriage. Once the Registered Domestic Partnership converts to marriage, you are already married and a legal ceremony will no longer be necessary, and the county will likely not issue a license for couples to be re-married.
Couples who are in an SRDP may also chose to have their SRDP automatically convert to marriage. Couples can obtain a marriage certificate by contacting the Department of Health (DOH). A letter the DOH issued is available here. The start date of the marriage for couples in an SRDP is the start date of their SRDP. For couples unsure of their SRDP date, they can find that information here.
For couples who have already separated or who do not want to be married
Couples who were in an SRDP, but have either already separated or who do not want to be married, must dissolve their SRDP (“dissolve” is the legal term for “divorce”). A couple that wants to makes sure that their relationship is dissolved prior to becoming a marriage needs to dissolve their relationship prior to June 30, 2014. Due to the fact the federal government does not recognize domestic partnerships and civil unions, a couple should discuss the impact of dissolving before the auto-conversion. There are potential tax implications and potential issues with access to community property maintained in a retirement account for couples who are in an SRDP versus a marriage. The process for dissolving an SRDP are the same as those for dissolving a marriage.
For Couples who have questions about the automatic conversion
There will be a panel, moderated by David Ward of Legal Voice on Thursday, May 8, 2014, at Seattle City Hall from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. to discuss the auto-conversion. Attorneys Cynthia Buhr, Denise Diskin, Janet Helson, along with a representative from Washington State Department of Health, will discuss how the automatic conversion may impact couples and their families. They will also discuss logistics, like how you get a marriage certificate and what it looks like. Info about the event is available on Facebook. Another event is being planned for May 29 in Olympia at one of the United Churches. Details on that event will be available in the upcoming week.
Full disclosure, Jill Mullins-Cannon is a board member of the QLaw Foundation, one of the organizations sponsoring the panels and will be a panelist at the Olympia event. The Seattle Lesbian is also a media sponsor of the event.