New Jersey Same-Sex Relationships:
Marriages, Civil Unions, and Domestic Partnerships | New Jersey Attorneys on Your Side
At Weinberger Law Group, our New Jersey 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:
Status of Same-Sex Marriage
Same-sex marriage in New Jersey became legal in October of 2013, following a New Jersey Superior Court decision in Garden State Equality v. Dow. While several other states also recognize same-sex marriage, many states do not. The federal government began to recognize state-sanctioned same-sex marriages in 2012, following the United States Supreme Court decision in U.S. v. Windsor.
New Jersey couples already in civil unions or domestic partnerships can marry their current legal partners without first terminating their existing civil union or domestic partnership. Pending possible future legislative changes, the prior relationship will remain intact following the marriage. For a detailed and up-to-date time-line chronicling major developments in the struggle for marriage equality in New Jersey, see: Status of Same-Sex Marriage in New Jersey
Rights and Differences Between Marriages, Civil Unions and Domestic Partnerships
In 2007, the New Jersey Civil Union Law granted couples of the same sex the right to enter into legal relationships conferring the same state rights granted to opposite-sex married couples. Following the legalization of same-sex marriage by the Garden State Equality decision, couples in civil unions who choose not to marry will continue to be treated no differently than married couples in New Jersey, but at this time they cannot expect to receive all of the federal benefits available to married couples.
The New Jersey Domestic Partnership Act, effective since 2004, granted limited rights to registered domestic partners, including certain health care, insurance and state pension rights, the right to file a joint state tax return, and the right to inherit from a partner without a will. 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.
Since 2007, 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 partners have legally terminated them or have taken the required steps to enter into a civil union with each other. Entering into a civil union with a current domestic partner automatically terminates the domestic partnership.
Concerns about Traveling or Moving between States
States that do not recognize same-sex marriages, civil unions, or domestic partnerships may not honor the rights of partners or parents who have entered into these legal relationships in other states. Partners may also have trouble terminating their relationships in such states. In addition, a few federal agencies - including at this time the Veterans Administration and the Social Security Administration - are currently recognizing as valid only same-sex marriages that a couples' current state of residence considers valid, even if the marriage was legally formed in another state. As a precautionary measure, same-sex 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 same-sex marriage, civil union or domestic partnership in another state or country, New Jersey will recognize that legal relationship as valid. No matter where you entered into the first relationship, you may be able to terminate it in New Jersey if one of the partners has been a resident of the state for at least one year. The appropriate procedure for terminating a same-sex relationship formed out-of-state is not always clear. To best protect your interests, consult an attorney to discuss the exact circumstances surrounding the termination.
Custodial or Visitation Rights for Non-Biological Parents
Many same-sex couples have children who are adopted or who are the biological offspring of only one partner. New Jersey courts will presume that both partners to a marriage or civil union (but not a domestic partnership) are the legal parents of any children born during the union. If you and your same-sex partner did not marry or enter into a civil union before your child's birth, your custody situation may be complex. Many non-biological parents in same-sex relationships pursue second-parent adoption. Other same-sex couples pursue adoption together.
For more information about parental rights in same-sex relationships, see: Children of Same-Sex Relationships
Dissolution or Divorce for Same-Sex Relationships
Like all married couples, same-sex married couples in New Jersey will have to go through a divorce to end their marriage. There are very few differences between the divorce process and the dissolution of a civil union, although the exact issues will depend on the unique circumstances of each case. Terminating a domestic partnership tends 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 are knowledgeable about all legal aspects of LGBT relationships and we can assist you with adoption, second-parent adoption, de facto or psychological parent status, as well as all phases of your divorce or dissolution. Contact one of our New Jersey civil union and domestic partnership attorneys to schedule your free initial consultation.
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