Choosing Love in NYC: Navigating Between City Hall Marriages and Domestic Partnerships

Kali McCarthy
3 min readApr 8, 2024

In New York City, couples have two primary options for legally recognizing their relationship: marriage and domestic partnership. Each offers distinct benefits, requirements, and implications that suit different needs and preferences. Here’s a detailed breakdown to help couples navigate their choices.

Wedding photo shot by Kali Artistry in New York.

Marriage in New York: A Legal and Emotional Union

Marriage is a legal contract between two individuals recognized at both the state and federal levels. In New York, the process to legally marry includes obtaining a marriage license, undergoing a marriage ceremony within 60 days of receiving the license, and filing the signed license with the city clerk’s office. Marriage confers numerous benefits, including:

  • Federal and State Recognition: Married couples are recognized across all legal jurisdictions in the U.S., facilitating matters like inheritance, taxation, and decision-making rights.
  • Healthcare and Family Benefits: Spouses are eligible for coverage under each other’s health insurance, have rights to medical decision-making, and can take family leave to care for each other.
  • Tax Benefits: Married couples can file joint tax returns, potentially leading to tax savings.
  • Immigration Rights: Marriage to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident can provide a pathway to a green card and citizenship.

Marriage requires that both individuals are at least 18 years old (or 17 with parental consent), not currently married, and not closely related by blood.

Domestic Partnership in New York: An Alternative Legal Recognition

Domestic partnerships offer an alternative form of legal recognition for couples who live together but may choose not to marry or cannot marry. To establish a domestic partnership in New York, couples must register with the city clerk’s office, meeting criteria such as cohabitation, financial interdependence, and not being married or in another domestic partnership. Benefits include:

  • Healthcare Visitation and Decision-Making: Similar to married couples, domestic partners can make healthcare decisions for each other and have visitation rights in hospitals and prisons.
  • State-Level Legal Benefits: While not recognized federally, domestic partnerships in New York provide some state-level benefits similar to those of marriage, including eligibility for a partner’s state health insurance and certain inheritance rights.

However, domestic partnerships do not offer federal benefits, such as Social Security survivor benefits or federal tax benefits, and dissolving a domestic partnership typically involves fewer legal steps than divorce.

Choosing Between Marriage and Domestic Partnership

Couples should consider their needs, plans, and the legal implications of each option. Marriage offers broader legal protections and benefits, especially at the federal level, making it suitable for couples who seek comprehensive legal recognition and benefits associated with marriage. In contrast, domestic partnerships might appeal to couples looking for a form of legal recognition without the full extent of marriage’s legal bindings, particularly if federal benefits are not a concern.


Both marriage and domestic partnerships provide meaningful ways for couples in New York to legally recognize their relationships. The choice between them depends on the couple’s unique circumstances, priorities, and how they wish to navigate their legal rights and responsibilities together. Understanding the nuances of each can help couples make informed decisions that align with their life plans and relationship goals.

For those considering these options, consulting with a legal expert can provide personalized advice and clarify any questions, ensuring that couples make the best decision for their situation.



Kali McCarthy

I'm Kali, a photographer with a journalism background. I capture and write about life's unseen stories, blending visuals with words to tell richer tales.