Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Wednesday, May 7, 2008


Page 1


Putative Spouse Doctrine Applies to Domestic Partners—C.A.


By a MetNews Staff Writer


The equitable putative spouse doctrine extends to domestic partnerships, the Fourth District Court of Appeal said yesterday.

Reversing the trial court’s dismissal of a petition for dissolution of a domestic partnership, Div. Three held that a person’s reasonable good faith belief that his domestic partnership was validly registered entitles that person to the rights and responsibilities of a registered domestic partner, even if the registration never took place.

Darrin Ellis and David James Arriaga signed a declaration of domestic partnership and had it notarized, however the declaration was never filed with the Secretary of State. When Ellis filed a petition for the dissolution of the domestic partnership three years later, Arriaga contended that no domestic partnership had ever been formed.

Orange Superior Court Judge Mark Millard agreed, concluding that putative status was unavailable to unregistered domestic partners, and granted Arriaga’s motion to dismiss.

Writing for the appellate court, however, Justice Richard D. Fybel reasoned that the Domestic Partner Act required the court to liberally interpret the act’s reach so that registered domestic partners have the same rights, protections and benefits under the law as spouses.

Because the putative spouse doctrine is not a right or obligation accorded by federal law, the California Constitution, or voter initiative—the only three exceptions to the rule that domestic partners have the same rights and burdens as married persons—it is not excluded from the rights granted and obligations imposed under the Domestic Partner Act, Fybel reasoned.

“There is no sound reason under California statutory law to deprive domestic partners of the rights granted to registered domestic partners if they reasonably believed they were so registered,” the justice insisted.

Justices Richard M. Aronson and Raymond J. Ikola joined Fybel in his opinion.

Tara L. Borelli of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, one of the attorneys who represented Ellis, said her client was pleased with the outcome of the case, but that this case also demonstrated that the existing domestic partnership laws are not fully adequate to protect same-sex couples.

She explained:

“If [Ellis] had been able to get married, this issue would never have been a question. The fact that he has been relegated to an inferior family protection system put him in this bind of having to ask for equal protection for his relationship.”

The process of a legal separation is “painful enough for any couple,” Borelli continued, but here, Ellis “had the added burden of trying to prove that he should have a right to get into court in the first place.” Borelli called this an “unfair burden that came at a particularly vulnerable time” for her client.

Arriaga did not oppose the appeal. Attorney General Jerry Brown came into the case as amicus supporting Ellis.

The case is In re Domestic Partnership of Ellis and Arriaga, 08 S.O.S. 2687.


Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company