Key Decisions

September 2012 – Becoming Domestic Partners Requires Certain Specific Acts

(filed under: Key Decisions Archive | September 26, 2012)

Other Cases Of Interest

Becoming Domestic Partners Requires Certain Specific Acts

Burnham v. California Public Employees’ Retirement System
(Cal. Ct. of App., 3d Dist.), filed August 31, 2012

James Burnham and Kathleen Honeyman wanted to become domestic partners. On a Saturday morning, they completed a notarized declaration of domestic partnership. Later that afternoon, Burnham died. The following day, Honeyman presented the declaration to the Office of the Secretary of State, and the clerk filed it.

Honeyman applied for Burnham’s state pension survivor benefits. The administrative board of the state pension system ruled Honeyman was entitled to the benefits, but the trial court held she was not because Honeyman and Burnham were not domestic partners at the time he died.

The Court of Appeal affirmed. The Legislature by statute has enumerated the requirements for establishing a domestic partnership. The statute states in relevant part, “A domestic partnership shall be established in California when both persons file a Declaration of Domestic Partnership with the Secretary of State . . . , and, at the time of filing . . . [b]oth persons are capable of consenting to the domestic partnership.”

The court held that presenting a declaration of domestic partnership for filing with the Secretary of State was a necessary prerequisite for a valid domestic partnership, and that at the time of presentation, both individuals to the partnership must be capable of consenting. Because Burnham was deceased when Honeyman presented the declaration for filing, Honeyman and Burnham never became domestic partners. Therefore, Honeyman was not entitled to Burnham’s state pension survivor benefits.