Marriage? Civil Union? Domestic Partnership?

Learn What Each of these Relationships Means for You and Your Partner

On October 21, 2013, the Superior Court determined that the State Constitution requires New Jersey to recognize same sex marriage. In the first six months after same-sex marriages became legal, more than 3,000 gay and lesbian weddings were performed.

Being able to marry is a big step towards equality for those of all sexual orientations. However, marriage may not be the right choice for every couple seeking a commitment. In this article, I define and explain the pros and cons of marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships in New Jersey.

Domestic Partnerships

The New Jersey Domestic Partnership Act in July 2004. It was amended by the Civil Union Act in 2007.

When the law was enacted, same sex couples over the age of 18 could register as domestic partners. The partners had to share a residence, and at least one partner was a member of the New Jersey State-administered retirement system.  The 2007 amendment limited New Jersey Domestic Partnerships to those over the age of 62. Pre-existing domestic partnerships are still recognized.

A domestic partnership provides some, but not all of the rights allowed to married couples under New Jersey Law:

  1. Partners are protected from discrimination in employment, housing and credit based on domestic partnership status.
  2. The law grants a partner the right to visit a hospitalized domestic partner.
  3. The law protects a partner’s right to make medical and legal decisions on behalf of an incapacitated domestic partner.
  4. A domestic partner is granted an additional exemption from the personal income tax and the transfer inheritance tax on the same basis as a spouse.

A domestic partnership may not be recognized in states other than New Jersey and can only be ended in New Jersey. In order to terminate a Registered Domestic Partnership, one partner must file a request for termination with the New Jersey Superior Court.

Civil Unions in New Jersey

The Civil Union law was enacted in 2007 to provide same-sex New Jersey couples with the same benefits, protections and responsibilities as married couples. However, these benefits are only available on the state level. Civil Union partners cannot receive federal tax and social security benefits and may not qualify as life insurance beneficiaries. A U.S citizen in a civil union cannot petition for immigration benefits for a non-citizen partner.

A New Jersey civil union may not be recognized in other states and can only be terminated in NJ.

Same Sex Marriage in New Jersey

Gay couples who marry in New Jersey qualify for all of the state and most of the federal benefits allowed to heterosexual married couples. However, while most federal agencies will recognize your marriage regardless of your state of residence, and the Social Security Administration only recognizes same-sex marriage if you were married in the state where you reside.

Other states may or may not recognize your marriage at this time. If you plan to move, you may need to take legal steps to protect your relationship and your marital rights. These steps can include:

  • Second parent adoption of your children
  • Creating a medical power of attorney for your partner
  • Drafting a durable and specific will
  • Legacy planning your estate

Today’s families come in all shapes and sizes. Until all families are treated equally under the law, it is important that you protect your loved ones, for now and for the future. Melinda M. Previtera, Attorney at Law provides family law services for same sex couples. Contact Melinda at (201) 655-7204 for more information about marriage, domestic partnership, civil unions, divorce, dissolutions, cohabitation agreements, parenting rights, estate planning, and adoption issues.