(Bonnie Drinkwater & Tracy McKenzie) – Effective October 1, 2009, the State of Nevada recognizes a new civil contract between unmarried individuals who meet the requirements of the Nevada Domestic Partnership Act and who properly file registration documents with the Nevada Secretary of State. Domestic partners may be the same sex or opposite sex.
The new law grants registered domestic partners the same rights, protections, benefits, responsibilities, obligations and duties as those granted to married couples under the law whether imposed by statute, regulation, rule, government policy, common law, or any other source of law. These rights and responsibilities extended to registered domestic partners include those provided under testamentary/probate law, employment and discrimination law, and all family law statutes including community property, spousal and child support, and adoption.
Although distinct from marriage under Nevada’s Constitution, domestic partners should, in most cases, be treated as the legal equivalent of spouses with the exception listed below.
OK, Fine! So what are you supposed to do???
To comply with the Nevada Domestic Partnership Act, you should review your policies and procedures to determine if revisions need to be made to account for registered domestic partners. Generally any reference an employee’s spouse in your employee handbook or policies should be revised to refer to “spouse and/or domestic partner.” In doing these revisions, however, you should be aware that certain benefits for spouses mandated by federal law, such as COBRA continuation health coverage and Family and Medical Leave Act leave, may not be available to domestic partners.
Also, think about your company’s forms. If you have a new hire packet that includes information about a spouse, change that to say “Spouse/Domestic Partner.”
YOU HAVE A CHOICE REGARDING HEALTH CARE BENEFITS!
The major exception to the rights extended to registered domestic partners is required employer health care benefits. Public and private employers in Nevada are not required to provide health care benefits under their applicable plan to registered domestic partners, but they may choose to do so. If you wish to extend insurance benefits to domestic partners, we suggest that you call your insurance provider to discuss whether you can and/or will offer benefits to domestic partners of your employees.
Under this new law, employers who offer benefits to their employees and spouses will need to carefully evaluate each benefit and determine if they are required, or if they elect, to include domestic partners.
Please keep in mind that under federal law, neither same-sex spouses nor domestic partners are generally recognized as spouses for whom favorable tax benefits apply. This would usually mean that certain tax-favored benefits (like pretax cafeteria plan or flexible spending account benefits) cannot be provided to employees who add domestic partners to group health plan coverage. The conditions that must be met to register a domestic partnership can be found in Senate Bill 283.
For more information on how to register a domestic partnership with the Nevada Secretary of State, click on the link: www.nvsos.gov/licensing/securities/domesticpartnership.asp
This article contains a general discussion of the law. This article does not constituted and should not be treated as legal advice as to any particular situation. You should always consult your attorney with regard to contract issues.
(Drinkwater & McKenzie are attorneys with Drinkwater Law Offices)