by Chelsey Lucas
SAME SEX MARRIAGE in Florida was legalized in January, allowing spouses, no matter their gender preference, to have access to the same health care and employee compensation benefits as heterosexual married couples.
There is another relationship status, however—that of domestic partnerships—employers should address. Carrie Hulen, a financial consultant and partner at Capstan Financial Consulting Group in Sarasota, is one of approximately 500 accredited domestic partnership advisers in the nation, and one of only three in Sarasota. She says no Florida statute requires employers to provide benefits to domestic partners, so no penalties apply.
“Employers must decide whether or not to recognize domestic partnerships and how to define them,” Hulen says. Recognition of domestic partnerships is on a state-by-state basis, and each county in Florida determines whether to recognize the relationship. The city of Sarasota, for example, defines domestic partners as “two adults who are parties to a valid domestic partnership relationship” and who meet requirements such as inhabiting a mutual residence, considering themselves to be a member of their partner’s immediate family, and designating their domestic partner as their health care surrogate.
A company may choose to provide benefits for domestic partners so long as it does not violate federal law, and it should be made clear to the employee that federal benefits are not available.
“The domestic partner is at a disadvantage for tax purposes because the employee domestic partner will not be able to exclude domestic partner spouse benefits from taxable income and the fair market value of these benefits will be imputed income to the employee,” Hulen says.
The biggest benefit in recognizing domestic partnerships, she says, is that “you’re able to take care of your employees and their families, traditional or not. If you make them feel welcome, they’re likely to stay for a longer time.” ■