The law regarding same-sex couples and marital status is beginning to change rapidly in many parts of the country. New Jersey has been no exception.
In 2004, the New Jersey Legislature passed a domestic partnership law. In 2007, it enacted a law allowing civil unions. New Jersey also recognizes same-sex marriages performed out-of-state. Gay and lesbian couples in New Jersey today can choose whether to register their domestic partnership to receive some of the rights and obligations of marriage or apply for a civil union license to receive substantially all the rights and benefits of marriage.
With this choice, however, they must face the difficult family law issues of dissolution and child custody.
Domestic Partnership Act of 2004
The Domestic Partnership Act became effective in July of 2004. Although the law allowed same-sex couples to register their domestic partnerships, it also extended this option to older heterosexual couples, aged 62 and up. The domestic partnership statute accorded some healthcare, inheritance, property and other rights between the domestic partners, but it did not provide for many of the rights and benefits married couples experience. The law only required health and pension benefits for state employees, making this optional for private employers, and did not mandate family leaves to care for sick partners.
Civil Union Act of 2007
The Civil Union Act became effective in February of 2007. This law expanded the rights and benefits of same-sex couples who enter a civil union in New Jersey, almost to the same level as married spouses. Under the federal Defense of Marriage Act, however, same-sex couples are still not entitled to the rights granted to married spouses under federal law, regardless of their marital status, civil union license or registered domestic partnership in any state. Critics of the civil union law in New Jersey claim that it confuses citizens and continues the pattern of marital inequality for same-sex couples in the state.
Registering Domestic Partnerships
The domestic partnership law still exists, but registering new domestic partnerships only applies to different-sex or same-sex couples over 62. To register a domestic partnership today, applicants fill out an Affidavit of Domestic Partnership, demonstrate they meet the specific residency and other requirements and file and register the affidavit with the state. The couple receives a Certificate of Domestic Partnership soon after. Existing domestic partners do not have to enter a civil union, but domestic partnerships registered in New Jersey automatically terminate if couples choose to instead apply for and enter a civil union.
Dissolving Domestic Partnerships
Domestic partners in New Jersey may legally dissolve their relationships by filing a request for termination, citing one of the same grounds available for marriage dissolution, with the Superior Court of the State of New Jersey. If a same-sex couple registered as domestic partners in New Jersey moves to another state that does not recognize their status and then decides to separate, however, things get more complicated. The couple may still be able to terminate their domestic partnership in New Jersey, but the issue of jurisdiction has to be resolved. This may be possible by proving one partner's membership in a pension or retirement fund administered by the state.
If you are considering registering a domestic partnership or applying for a civil union in New Jersey, or you already carry one of these statuses and want to change or end your same-sex relationship, contact a New Jersey family law attorney today to discuss your legal rights and options. An experienced lawyer can also help negotiate and resolve typical dissolution issues like child custody, child support, temporary support pending the termination, palimony, and division of property and debts.