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Marriage & Relationships | Domestic Partnerships & Civil Unions | New Hampshire

New Hampshire Domestic Partnerships & Civil Unions Q&A

What is domestic partnership?

Although it is a term used in many contexts, “domestic partnership” most often means a status which recognizes an unmarried couple and their children as a family for certain limited purposes, most commonly employee benefits. Some states, cities, and towns have also enacted domestic partner laws. In other contexts, “domestic partner” is a shorthand term for family, replacing “lover,” “friend,” and “roommate.” Some people call cohabitation agreements “domestic partner agreements.” For further information see GLAD publications on domestic partnership at: www.glad.org/rights/publications/c/relationsips/.

Does New Hampshire provide domestic partner benefits to state employees?

In May 2006, the Merrimack County Superior Court ruled in Bedford and Breen v. New Hampshire Technical College System, a case filed by GLAD, that the denial of insurance and leave benefits to the families of two New Hampshire state employees constituted both disparate treatment and disparate impact violations of the New Hampshire law against sexual orientation discrimination in employment.  Although the State of New Hampshire appealed this case to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, the State dropped its appeal in May 2007, in light of the passage of the civil union law, which requires that civil union spouses of state workers be provided access to health benefits, and the collective bargaining decision to extend benefits to the domestic partners of state workers.

Can cities and towns in New Hampshire provide domestic partner health insurance benefits to their own employees?

Yes, and some do.

What kinds of domestic partner benefits may private employers provide?

Private employers can provide to domestic partners any benefits they wish – whether health insurance, family medical or bereavement leave, equal pension benefits, relocation expenses, or access to company facilities.

However, even when employers provide these benefits, federal laws sometimes treat domestic partner benefits differently from spousal benefits, often with financial consequences. For example, employees must pay federal income tax on a domestic partner’s health insurance benefits, but spousal benefits are exempt (see Internal Revenue Code, Private Letter Ruling 9603011 (Jan. 19, 1996)). Similarly, while spousal consent is required if a married employee decides to name a third party as a pension beneficiary or survivor benefits recipient, an employee with a domestic partner can change these designations freely.

What is happening with New Hampshire’s civil unions?

Effective January 1, 2010, New Hampshire stopped issuing civil union licenses. Effective January 1, 2011, all existing New Hampshire civil unions were converted into marriages by operation of law (NH RSA 457:46, II). Civil unions from other states were not converted into marriages, but will still be recognized and afforded all the same state protections and responsibilities as marriage.

For additional information about New Hampshire marriage and civil unions see GLAD’s publication, How to Get Married in New Hampshire.