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Dissolution of Civil Unions or Domestic Partnerships and Same-sex Divorce

The end of a relationship that both partners once fully expected would last a lifetime can be traumatic and often presents immediate practical issues concerning financial support or care of children. While the same types of issues confront all couples ending relationships, resolving the issues in a same-sex relationship often requires special skill and knowledge in interpreting and applying the law concerning parenting, property division and partner support.

The New Jersey family law attorneys at Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group will provide calm and compassionate assistance in this often turbulent time. We are experienced in handling all aspects of termination, regardless of the legal form of the relationship or the state in which the relationship was formalized. If you are in a civil union or a domestic partnership, we can guide you through the process of dissolution. If you entered into a same-sex marriage in another state or country, we can help you pursue a divorce in a New Jersey court.

Common issues in civil union and domestic partnership dissolutions which are the same as in divorce include:

  • Choosing grounds for dissolution
  • Child custody and visitation
  • Child support
  • Partner support (spousal maintenance, or alimony)
  • Defining property rights

Dissolution of a Civil Union or Domestic Partnership

New Jersey began recognizing registered domestic partnerships with limited rights in 2004. 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. New Jersey law requires couples pursuing dissolution of a civil union or domestic partnership to follow the same process as in a divorce, including filing a complaint for dissolution and a case information statement, participating in case management conferences, and possibly engaging in discovery.

There are very few process differences between a divorce and dissolution of a civil union, although the exact issues will depend on the circumstances of each case. Dissolutions of domestic partnerships tend to involve fewer legal issues, but the procedure is still the same. This required formality sometimes comes as a surprise to partners who believed that their domestic partnership was a relatively informal relationship.

Divorce for Same-Sex Marriages

The case law on divorce in New Jersey for same sex couples who entered into marriages outside of New Jersey is not clear at all. While New Jersey will generally enforce the rights and obligations that the partners have to each other, in the event that either wants a divorce, the circumstances surrounding obtaining a divorce is not so clear-cut.

Grounds for Dissolution

A partner filing a complaint for dissolution of a civil union or domestic partnership can use most of the same grounds available in divorce , including adultery, desertion, extreme cruelty, separation, and a few other rarely used grounds. The one exception is that while irreconcilable differences is an acceptable ground in a divorce, it is not one of the allowable ground for a dissolution of a civil union or domestic partnership. We expect that it will soon become available in dissolution as well, but we cannot predict exactly when that will happen.

Property Division and Alimony

Entering into a domestic partnership does not create the same kinds of shared property rights or shared responsibility for debts as a marriage or a civil union. For this reason, equitable distribution and alimony are not usually a consideration for partners ending a domestic partnership. For partners ending a civil union, the rules governing equitable property division and alimony are the same as the rules in a divorce, but such couples often face slightly different issues.

One issue commonly confronting partners who lived together as a committed couple for many years and then entered into a civil union at their earliest opportunity is whether or not a court will treat their union the same way it would treat a long-term marriage for purposes of equitable property division and alimony. The law is still evolving in this area and there is no single right or wrong answer to this question. You can be assured, however, that our knowledgeable New Jersey civil union and domestic partnership attorneys will make the strongest possible argument in support of your individual needs.

Other financial and property issues unique to same-sex relationships relate to federal taxes and benefits. 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.

Child Custody, Visitation and Support

Child custody and child support laws apply to all parents. However, same-sex couples with children confront certain issues on a more frequent basis. For example, many same-sex couples have adopted children or have children who are the biological offspring of only one partner. In some situations, a same-sex partner who is not a child's biological or adoptive parent, but has acted as the child's parent in a family relationship, may still have parental rights. This is a complex area of law. Our attorneys will work tirelessly to protect your relationship with your child and maximize your parental rights.

The New Jersey family law attorneys at Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group, LLC will discuss all aspects of your case and fully inform you of your rights, responsibilities, and options. We will offer you advice and suggestions for an amicable settlement, and if necessary, will also vigorously advocate on your behalf at court to ensure that your rights are fully protected.

For more information, see: Civil Unions, Domestic Partnerships, and Same-Sex Marriages

If you are seeking termination of a civil union or domestic partnership or if you believe that your partner may be seeking a termination, our New Jersey family law attorneys can guide you through the process and answer all of your questions, so that you are better able to make the best possible decisions for yourself and your family during this difficult transition.