Tonya C~ is requesting her name be changed back to Tonya J~. She filed a "Notice of
Termination of Domestic Partnership" (hereafter "Termination Notice") on October XX,
2008, with the State of California Secretary of State. The Sacramento West District
Office raised two issues with respect to Ms. C~s' request.
Issue #1 Is a Notice of Termination of Domestic Partnership sufficient evidence of a terminated
No, the Termination Notice itself is not sufficient evidence that the domestic partnership
has been terminated. However, if no revocation is filed, the domestic partnership
will terminate automatically on May 1, 2009.
Thus, the Termination Notice, signed by both domestic partners, along with the six
month status letter from the Secretary of State, could provide evidence that the domestic
partnership has been effectively terminated. However, either party may still bring
suit to set aside the termination due to fraud, mistake or duress; and a court may
set aside the termination and declare it null and void upon proof that any of the
Section 299(a) conditions apply. Cal. Fam. Code § 299(c) (2008).
Termination of a registered domestic partnership is not effective until six months
after the date of filing of the Termination Notice with the Secretary of State. Cal.
Fam. Code § 299(b) (2008). Either party may, before the effective date, file a Revocation
of Termination of Domestic Partnership. Cal. Fam. Code § 299(b) (2008). If no revocation
is filed, the domestic partnership terminates automatically. See Cal. Sec'y of State, Terminating a California Registered Domestic Partnership 4-5
(2008), available at http://www.sos.ca.gov/dpregistry/forms/sf-dp2.pdf.
Moreover, the option to "terminate," as opposed to dissolving the relationship in
court is only available to couples who have been registered for fewer than five years,
have no children, have few assets/debts, and nothing is in dispute. Specifically,
the parties may only seek termination of the domestic partnership (which is similar
to summary dissolution of a marriage) if they satisfy all of the conditions outlined
in California Family Code Section 299(a). See also Cal. Fam. Code § 2400(a) (2008) (rules for summary dissolution of marriage). These
1) There are no children of the relationship of the parties born before or after registration
of the domestic partnership or adopted by the parties after registration, and neither
of the partners, to their knowledge, is pregnant;
2) The partnership was not registered prior to October 30, 2003 (was not more than
five years in duration);
3) Neither party owns or has an interest in any real property wherever situated, with
the exception of a standard residential lease, occupied by either party;
4) Neither party owes more than $5,000 in debts (excluding an automobile loan);
5) The total fair market value of community property assets, excluding all encumbrances
and automobiles, including any deferred compensation or retirement plan, is less than
$33,000, and neither party has separate property assets, excluding all encumbrances
and automobiles, in excess of $33,000;
6) The parties have formally agreed to the division of assets and the assumption of
liabilities of the community property, and have executed any documents or other evidence
of transfer necessary to effectuate the agreement;
7) The parties waive any right to support by the other domestic partner; and
8) The Termination Notice was signed by both registered domestic partners (both parties
desire the termination and attest that they read and understand the above requirements).
Cal. Fam. Code § 299(a) (2008) (emphasis added); see also California Courts Self-Help Center, Ending a Domestic Partnership, http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/selfhelp/family/overview/endingdp.htm#end (last visited Jan. 30, 2009). Six months have not elapsed since Ms. C~ filed her
Termination Notice. Ms. C~ has indicated that she could obtain a "status letter" from
the California Secretary of State once the termination is effective. Therefore, as
evidence of effective termination, we would need a copy of this "status letter," obtained
by Ms. C~ from the Secretary of State on or after May 1, 2009, six months after the
October 30, 2008 filing of the Termination Notice.
However, it is important to note that the Secretary's decision to terminate a domestic
partnership may still be challenged in California Superior Court. Cal. Fam. Code §
299(d) (2008). The court may set aside the termination upon proof that the Section
299(a) conditions do not apply, or upon finding that the termination was obtained
through fraud, mistake or duress. Cal. Fam. Code § 299(c) (2008).
Issue #2 Does the dissolution of a California domestic partnership constitute a legal name
Yes, but only if it is accomplished through a judicial proceeding. "Dissolution" of
a California domestic partnership is accomplished through petition to Superior Court,
and if name change is raised during the proceeding, it can constitute a legal name
change event. While a "terminated" domestic partnership has many of the same legal
effects as dissolution, it cannot qualify as a legal name change event because it
lacks any process for changing one's name, whereas, the more formal, judicial "dissolution"
incorporates a process for legal name change.
Consequently, even if the termination effectively dissolved her domestic partnership,
Ms. C~ must seek a superior court judgment for her name change. Ms. C~ may accomplish
this by filing with the court an ex parte application for restoration of her former
name, in order to obtain legal recognition of her name change.
A properly terminated registered domestic partnership is treated as a dissolution,
which generally has the same legal effect as dissolution of marriage. Cal. Fam. Code
§ 297.5(b) (2008) (former registered domestic partners generally have "the same rights,
protections, and benefits, and shall be subject to the same responsibilities, obligations,
and duties under [California] law . . . as are granted to and imposed upon former
spouses"); Cal. Fam. Code § 299(b) (2008) ("[t]he effect of termination of a domestic
partnership pursuant to this section shall be the same as, and shall be treated for
all purposes as, the entry of a judgment of dissolution of a domestic partnership").
Among the several ways in which domestic partners' benefits and responsibilities are
not the same as spouses', the California Supreme Court specifically noted that a "partners'
joint filing of a [Termination Notice] may become effective without any court action,
whereas a summary dissolution of a marriage is initiated by the spouses' joint filing
of a petition in superior court and becomes effective only upon entry of a court judgment."
In re Marriage Cases, 43 Cal.4th 757, 805 n.24 (Cal. 2008). In Knight, the court noted that "the mechanisms for forming and terminating the relationships
are different," such that "[m]ore than the mere filing of documents [e.g., Termination
Notice] with the Secretary of State is required to form or dissolve a marriage." Knight v. Superior Court, 128 Cal.App.4th 14 (Cal. Ct. App. 2005). Thus, unlike a court ordered dissolution,
an administratively "terminated" domestic partnership does not involve a superior
Further, unlike in the administrative process for terminating a domestic partnership,
the judicial proceeding for dissolving a marriage includes an opportunity to expediently
restore one's name. "[T]he court, upon the request of a party, shall restore the birth
name or former name of that party, regardless of whether or not a request for restoration
of the name was included in the petition." Cal. Fam. Code § 2080 (2008) (emphasis
Registered domestic partners have the same opportunity to petition the court for dissolution
of the partnership. The "dissolution of a domestic partnership [and] nullity of a
domestic partnership . . . shall follow the same procedures, and the partners shall
possess the same rights, protections, and benefits, and be subject to the same responsibilities,
obligations, and duties, as apply to the dissolution of marriage." Cal. Fam. Code
§ 299(d) (2008). In fact, the two page form (FL-103) that partners must file with
the court in order to dissolve a domestic partnership, mirrors that used for dissolution
of marriage. Cal. R. of Ct., Rule 5.28 (2009).
Consequently, registered domestic partners who seek court ordered dissolution also
have the same opportunity to request that they recover their previous names. However,
even if a partnership is effectively dissolved in a judicial proceeding, if no request
for name change is made, a subsequent request to retain one's "maiden name" must be
sought through the court, using the "Ex Parte Application for Restoration of Former
Name After Entry of Judgment and Order" (form FL-395). See California Courts Self-Help Center, How Do I Change My Name (after divorce), http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/selfhelp/other/namechangeadult6.htm (last visited Jan. 30, 2009).
Therefore, once Ms. C~' domestic partnership automatically terminates in May 2009,
the termination should be treated by the court as "the entry of a judgment of dissolution
of a domestic partnership." Cal. Fam. Code § 299(b) (2008). By providing evidence
of this "final judgment" and submitting the ex parte application for restoration of
her former name, as outlined on the court's self help website, Ms. C~ should be able
to obtain sufficient evidence of legal name change. We advise, however, that she contact
her county clerk for the specific process used in her county. See California Courts, Find a Court, http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/courts/find.htm (last visited Jan. 30, 2009).