New Jersey Civil Unions and Domestic Partnerships
At Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group, our New Jersey civil union and domestic partnership attorneys are dedicated to supporting the needs of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, and Transgender) community. We understand that same-sex couples can face unique challenges. Our attorneys have extensive experience in meeting the needs of non-traditional couples and families, and we are committed to staying on the leading edge of this rapidly evolving area of law.
Common issues faced by couples in same-sex relationships include:
Rights in Civil Unions and Domestic Partnerships
The New Jersey civil union law, effective since February of 2007, grants couples of the same sex the right to enter into legally recognized relationships conferring the same basic rights granted to married heterosexual couples. By contrast, a domestic partnership confers only limited financial rights, including the right to file a joint state tax return and receive certain health insurance and pension benefits. Since the civil union law became effective, only couples 62 years of age or older (whether opposite-sex or same-sex) can enter into new domestic partnerships. Domestic partnerships entered into prior to that date remain valid unless the parties have legally dissolved them or have taken the required steps to enter into a civil union.
A major difference between domestic partnership and civil union or marriage is that a domestic partnership does not create the same kinds of shared property rights or shared responsibility for debts. If you and your partner wish to have the same level of rights and responsibilities as a married couple, you must enter into a civil union.
Differences between State and Federal Law
At the present time, the Internal Revenue Service does not recognize same-sex civil unions or same-sex marriages. This means that same-sex couples are not treated as married for federal tax purposes and are not eligible for federal benefits based on marriage, such as derivative social security benefits. At some point this may change. In the meantime, civil union partners located in New Jersey should consult an accounting professional for advice regarding the impact of this treatment on their federal taxes.
Concerns about Traveling or Moving between States
States that do not recognize civil unions or domestic partnerships may not honor the rights of partners or parents who have entered into legal relationships in other states. Partners may also have trouble dissolving their relationship in such states. The risk is greatest in extremely conservative states. Partners should carry financial and health care powers of attorney for themselves and for their children when traveling from state to state.
If you entered into a civil union or a domestic partnership in another state or country, New Jersey will recognize that civil union or domestic partnership as valid. No matter where you entered into the first relationship, you may be able to dissolve it in New Jersey as long as one of the partners has been a resident of the state for at least one year, except in situations where adultery is your ground for divorce. You would be best served to consult with an attorney in order to discuss the exact circumstances surrounding dissolving your relationship.
Custodial or Visitation Rights for Non-Biological Parents
Many same-sex couples have children who are the biological offspring of only one partner. This does not necessarily mean that the biological parent will automatically be entitled to full custody if the couple dissolves their relationship. New Jersey courts will presume that both partners to a civil union are the legal parents of any children born during the union. If same-sex partners have not entered into a civil union the situation will be more complicated; a court will consider what the non-biological partner's role has been and whether the couple intended for the non-biological partner to be a parent to the child. When the partners clearly planned to be co-parents from the outset, there is a much better chance that a court will give the non-biological parent the same rights as a biological parent in a custody decision.
Even when same-sex couples have entered into a New Jersey civil union before the birth of their child, they should be aware that unless they have gone through the process of second-parent adoption the non-biological parent may not be considered to be a legal parent in all states outside New Jersey. Second parent adoption is the best way to ensure that rights will be honored in another state. Couples where one partner has adopted a child as an individual may also want to pursue second parent adoption.
Dissolution or Divorce for Same-Sex Relationships
New Jersey law requires couples pursuing dissolution of a civil union or domestic partnership to follow essentially the same process as in a divorce. There are very few differences between a divorce and dissolution of a civil union, although the exact issues will depend on the unique circumstances of each case. Dissolutions of domestic partnerships tend to involve fewer legal issues, but the procedure is still the same.
For more information about terminating a same-sex marriage, civil union or domestic partnership, see:
Dissolution of a Civil Union or Domestic Partnership and Same-Sex Divorce
If you have questions about same-sex marriages, civil unions or domestic partnerships or about your rights as a parent in a same-sex relationship, we can help. Our experienced and compassionate attorneys can assist you with adoption, second-parent adoption, de facto or psychological parent status and all aspects of your divorce or dissolution. Contact one of our New Jersey civil union and domestic partnership attorneys to schedule your free initial consultation.