What is in a Name? Civil Unions vs. Domestic Partnerships

Posted by Legal Q&A on Wednesday, February 22, 2012

If my partner and I have a registered New Jersey domestic partnership, are there any benefits to entering into a civil union or an out-of-state marriage?

Yes, if you wish to have the same rights as married couples under New Jersey law.

The rights given to domestic partners are more limited than those for civil union partners or married couples. The rights of domestic partner are specifically identified in the Domestic Partnership Act. These rights include the right to hospital visitation, medical decision-making and certain tax benefits. The New Jersey Supreme Court recognized the limited rights for domestic partners in Lewis v. Harris, 188 N.J. 415 (2006) stating, “Although under the Domestic Partnership Act same-sex couples are provided with a number of important rights, they still are denied many benefits and privileges accorded to their similarly situated heterosexual counterparts.” 

The Domestic Partnership Act does not provide for important rights and benefits in the event of a break up. For example, a partner who has depended on the other for financial support may not be entitled to continuing support. A partner may have no right to important assets, such as the home the couple shared, if the asset is not held in the names of both partners. When the legislature passed the Civil Union Act, this Act did not change the rights and obligations of existing Domestic Partners.

The rights granted to Civil Union Partners by the State of New Jersey are more expansive than those of domestic partnerships and give Civil Union partners rights intended to be equal to those rights given by the State of New Jersey to married couples. Therefore, individuals seeking to terminate a civil union or same-sex marriage in New Jersey may face all the issues that can be involved in a divorce such as alimony, equitable distribution and support.

How do I convert my domestic partnership into a civil union?

You may get a civil union license application form at your Local Registrar’s office. Entry into a civil union, when joined by both parties to an existing domestic partnership, automatically terminates the domestic partnership. You may get forms and information at http://www.state.nj.us/health/vital/civilunion_apply.shtml.

Can I enter into a New Jersey domestic partnership?

Since the passing of the Civil Union Act, same-sex partners under the age of 62 may no longer enter into domestic partnerships; they may only enter into Civil Unions. Domestic partnerships for couples who have not registered as civil union partners continue to exist and are recognized.

 Will my marriage, civil union, or domestic partnership from another state be recognized in the State of New Jersey?

If you and your partner are already in a civil union, or are in a relationship that is considered equivalent to a civil union in New Jersey such as a marriage from another state, you do not need to go through the same process in New Jersey in order to receive the benefits of the civil union laws. However, you may choose to apply for a “Reaffirmation of Civil Union” License at your local registrar. Reaffirmation may be beneficial if you and your partner have been married in Massachusetts, Canada, or some other jurisdiction that allows same-sex marriage because it would extend recognition of your relationship to states that recognize civil unions but not same-sex marriages. It may also be helpful if you entered a relationship that is equal to a civil union but called something else such as a California Domestic Partnership.

If you have specific about entering a civil union or getting out of a civil union or domestic partnership, you may contact Jerner & Palmer, P.C. http://www.jplaw.com/

By: Rebecca Levin, Esq.

Rebecca Levin is an associate at Jerner & Palmer, P.C., with offices in Marlton and Philadelphia. Her practice is concentrated on Child Support & Custody, Divorce & Dissolution and Domestic Violence & Protection From Abuse.  

Nothing contained in blog should be construed as legal advice. Because each person's situation is unique and because laws differ significantly from state to state, you should consult a lawyer in your area to obtain legal advice appropriate to your situation.

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