Beginning August 3, 2009, same-sex couples in Wisconsin will be able to register for domestic partnerships with their local County Clerks.  This controversial new law was created with the state budget signed into law by Governor Doyle on June 29, 2009.  While domestic partnership is not the same as a “same sex marriage” or a “civil union,” it does afford couples more rights and protections than existed under prior law, including:

  • rights to inheritance
  • rights to family and medical leave
  • hospital visitation privileges

To register, couples will need to go to the County Clerk’s office in the county where they reside, complete a sworn affidavit and pay a fee.  There is a 5 day waiting period, which may be waived for a fee at the discretion of the Clerk.  Upon the expiration of the 5 day waiting period, the County Clerk issues a declaration to the couple.  The declaration must then be signed, notarized, and filed with the county Register of Deeds.  The declaration is maintained as a vital record – much as a birth certificate, death certificate, etc.

The advocacy group Fair Wisconsin has published a reference guide  on their website as a resource for couples seeking more information about the new law.  The Winnebago County Clerk’s office has also posted an extensive set of FAQs to assist those seeking to register or dissolve a domestic partnership.

Because the law does not treat a domestic partnership as a marriage (in fact, Wisconsin has a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage), the “regular” divorce laws do not apply upon dissolution of a domestic partnership.  However, an experienced divorce and family lawyer can assist same-sex and opposite-sex partners in resolving many types of disputes upon the termination of a relationship using pre-existing law regarding property rights.

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