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Domestic partner benefits are employer-provided benefits that are extended to the domestic partners of employees. While the most common example of a domestic partnership is two people involved in a romantic relationship while residing in the same dwelling but without benefit of a legal contract of marriage, the term is sometimes used to also describe situations in which the employee is the legal caretaker of a close relative. In some nations, employers are free to determine what situations are recognized as domestic partnerships and use that determination as the basis for offering a range of benefits to the partner. Some examples of domestic partner benefits include access to health insurance, education and tuition assistance, and even access to the employee’s retirement and disability benefits.
One of the most basic of all domestic partner benefits is the extension of health insurance coverage to the domestic partner. With this benefit, the partner is able to enjoy all the benefits of the coverage provided to the employee. Many employers that offer health insurance for domestic partners will treat the domestic arrangement as a marriage. Therefore, if the company policy is to extend health insurance for free to single employees but require splitting the premium for family coverage benefits and withholding that portion of the premium from the employee’s pay, that same approach will be used to cover the domestic partner and any other dependents that reside in the home.
Along with domestic partner benefits related to health insurance, many employers will also provide domestic partners with access to pension and other retirement plans extended through the employee. Here, the company is choosing to recognize the significant other of the employee as a life partner, in essentially the same manner that a legal spouse would be recognized. This means that in the event that the employee passes away, the benefits accrued in the pension plan would be available to the domestic partner, often helping to ease financial burdens as the partner copes with the loss of his or her loved one.
Some companies also include educational opportunities as part of domestic partner benefits. In this instance, the domestic partner has access to the same programs that help to provide tuition assistance to spouses and other dependents of employees. The terms of the program may involve the extension of a student loan at an agreed-upon rate of interest, or be in the form of a grant program that requires the domestic partner to engage in specific courses of study and also maintain a certain grade point average.
In many instances, the scope of domestic partner benefits is restricted somewhat by laws currently enacted by state and federal governments. Those restrictions usually focus more on benefits involving the ability of the employer to withhold taxes by classifying the domestic partners as a couple, but may also restrict other benefits as well. For this reason, it is important to understand what local and national laws may impact the ability of the employer to extend domestic partner benefits in certain geographic areas.