& Civil Unions
A domestic partnership is a relationship wherein two individuals of the same sex, or two individuals of the opposite sex who are each 62 years of age or older, who meet the criteria set forth in N.J.S.A. 26:8A-4, are afforded certain rights and benefits, such as statutory protection against various forms of discrimination against domestic partners, certain visitation and decision-making rights in a healthcare setting, and certain tax-related benefits. However, effective February 19, 2007, two individuals of the same sex can no longer establish a domestic partnership. N.J.S.A. 26:8A-4.1. The court may terminate a domestic partnership and may distribute jointly held property. However, the court is not required to effectuate an equitable distribution in the same manner as a divorce. N.J.S.A. 26:8A-10.
New Jersey’s Domestic Partnership Act
The New Jersey Legislature passed the Domestic Partnership Act (DPA) in 2004 after recognizing that there are a significant number of people in the State who “choose to live together in important personal, emotional and economic committed relationships.” Lewis v. Harris, 188 N.J. 415, 447 (2006).
The DPA grants couples certain fundamental rights and benefits under N.J.S.A. 26:8A-1, the most important of which include the following:
- Statutory protections against discrimination based on domestic partnership status, such as employment, housing, and credit discrimination;
- The right to make legal or medical decisions on behalf of an incapacitated partner; and
- The right to receive tax exemptions from the personal income tax and the transfer inheritance tax in the same way a spouse can. (www.nj.gov).
The law only applies to:
- Couples of the same-sex or opposite-sex who are each 62 years of age or older;
- Couples younger than 62 years of age who have entered a domestic partnership prior to the law’s amendment in February 2017; and
- Couples who entered a domestic partnership outside the State of New Jersey.
How Do I Qualify for a Domestic Partnership?
A domestic partnership is established when all of the following requirements are met:
- Both persons share a common residence, and are otherwise jointly responsible for each other’s common welfare as evidenced by joint financial arrangements or joint ownership of real or personal property, which shall be demonstrated by at least one of the following:
- a joint deed, mortgage agreement or lease;
- a joint bank account;
- designation of one of the persons as a primary beneficiary in the other person’s will;
- designation of one of the persons as a primary beneficiary in the other person’s life insurance policy or retirement plan; or
- joint ownership of a motor vehicle.
- Both persons agree to be jointly responsible for each other’s basic living expenses during the domestic partnership;
- Neither person is in a marriage or civil union recognized by New Jersey law or a member of another domestic partnership;
- Neither person is related to the other by blood or affinity up to and including the fourth degree of consanguinity;
- Both persons are of the same sex OR opposite sex and are each 62 years of age or older;
- Both persons have chosen to share each other’s lives in a committed relationship of mutual caring; and
- Both persons file jointly an Affidavit of Domestic Partnership.
What are the Obligations of a Domestic Partners?
Under the 2013 NJ Rev Stat § 26:8A-6, when a couple enters a domestic partnership, the individuals’ obligations to each other are governed by the Act. Specifically, it provides that a domestic partner shall not be liable for the debts of the other partner contracted before establishment of the domestic partnership, or contracted by the other partner in his own name during the domestic partnership. The partner who contracts for the debt in his own name shall be liable to be sued separately in his own name, and any property belonging to that partner shall be liable to satisfy that debt in the same manner as if the partner had not entered into a domestic partnership. Domestic partners may, however, modify the rights and obligations owed to each other through a valid contract between themselves.
Terminating the Domestic Partnership
A domestic partnership in New Jersey can be terminated on nearly the same grounds as a divorce:
- Voluntary sexual relations with a person other than your domestic partner
- Desertion for one year
- Extreme cruelty
- Separation for 18 months
- Drug addiction or habitual drunkenness for one year
- Institutionalization for mental illness for a period of two consecutive years
- Imprisonment for 18 consecutive months or more
Effective February 19, 2007, two individuals of the same sex can establish a civil union in New Jersey provided they satisfy the requirements set forth in N.J.S.A. 37:1-30. As a result of establishing a civil union, the individuals are afforded all of the same benefits, protections and responsibilities under law as are afforded to spouses in a marriage. N.J.S.A. 37:1-31(a). The dissolution of a civil union follows the same procedures and is subject to the same substantive rights and obligations that are involved in the dissolution of a marriage. N.J.S.A. 37:1-31(b).
Our Firm Can Help
The attorneys at Sarno da Costa D’Aneillo Maceri LLC is dedicated to ensuring that your rights are protected under the DPA. Contact us today to set up a consultation and discuss your case with an experienced matrimonial attorney. If you have need for more general information regarding domestic partnerships or other aspects of family law, check out our blog and articles on our website.