Partners Task Force for Gay & Lesbian Couples
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Domestic Partnership Act
The New Jersey Approach
© December 17, 2006, Demian


The New Jersey registration status was established in January 12, 2004, and became effective in July 10, 2004.

By offering a domestic partnership registration status, instead of legal marriage, New Jersey has created an apartheid, with one set of laws pertaining to opposite-sex couples, and another for same-sex couples. [See Marrying Apartheid]

Registrations do not have any legal weight in the Federal sphere, and, to date, only California and New Jersey officially recognizes this kind of status from other states.
      [See California: Registration]

While this status offers an improved range of protections for same-sex couples who live in New Jersey, it contains many gaps, including the rights and responsibilities when a relationship is dissolved. For instance, there are no provisions if one partner gives up a career to stay home and raise children, or to help run a business.

In 2004, 2,831 couples registered.
In 2005, there were only 967 registrations.
Through mid-June of 2006, only 334 couples had signed up.
Of the 4,132 couples who have registered to date, about 90 are opposite-sex couples.

Registration Rights
— Original July 2004 Coverage —
  • Sue under state anti-discrimination law
  • Visit each other in the hospital
  • Make medical decisions for an incapacitated partner
  • File joint state tax returns
  • Avoid inheritance tax as do legally married partners
  • State workers able to get partner benefits
  • Public employees (police, firefighters, etc.) eligible for state pensions if partner dies on the job
  • Recognizes domestic partner relationships from other states
— Added in January 2006 —
  • Inheritance rights
  • Control over funeral arrangements
— Added by family court proceeding on November 14, 2006 —
  • Both parents, who register as domestic partners, may be listed on a child’s birth certificate

State officials informed insurers they must offer domestic partner benefits if they write policies that include married couples, and directed hospitals that domestic partners should be permitted to visit in intensive care units.

Local governments can also decide to provide employee benefits, based on the registration. As of June 2004, Maplewood, South Orange, and Princeton Borough passed such measures.

As of December 15, 2004, 2,640 same-sex couples registered as domestic partners. This included 1,582 female couples and 1,058 male couples. Also, 42 opposite-sex couples 62 or older registered.


Registration Omissions
  • Debts not shared on termination
  • Property purchased by one does not become joint property
  • No allowances for alimony
  • No equitable distribution of property acquired during the domestic partnership
  • No provisions for break up
  • No custody considerations, which leaves thousands of children unprotected

Several trial courts in New Jersey have modestly expanded the specific benefits under the 2004 law in technical rulings that found the legislation to be permissive rather than strictly bound by the rights itemized.

In early January 2006, the New Jersey legislature overwhelmingly voted for Bill 2083, which expands the domestic partner law to allow a surviving partner inheritance rights and control over funeral arrangements equivalent to that of a surviving spouse, even if there is no will. The Bill was signed by Gov. Richard Codey on January 11, 2006.

Other bills clarifying the rights of domestic partners in the areas of guardianship, health benefits and mental health directives were also passed.



Because the status is still new, it is conceivable judgements could be made — based on an active registration — against a partner for their partner’s hospital bills, for example, even if they were no longer partners.

Further, as the status specifically recognizes other domestic partnerships from other states, it is not clear what will happen regarding a status that offers more rights that does New Jersey. Potential conflicts could easily arise with couples who have a registration from California, a Civil Union from Vermont, or a legal marriage from Massachusetts.

Our assessment is that the registration is largely symbolic, full of large gaps and ambiguities that render domestic partnerships a high wire act without a net, and frequently, without a wire. Cue the lawyers.

Steven Goldstein, chair of Garden State Equality, has noted that with the 10 new partnership rights and obligations, same-sex couples still enjoy less than one percent of the more than 1,049 rights triggered by legal marriage that have been identified by the government’s General Accounting Office. [Now actually counted at 1,138. See our article: U.S. Federal Laws for the Legally Married]

Said Goldstein: “At that pace, we will get full rights in 100 years. We can get this all done at once with marriage equality. It’s demeaning to have to beg for these incremental steps.”


Procedures
  • $28 fee (current cost of a marriage license)
  • Apply at any New Jersey municipal hall
  • Need government-issued identification
  • Must prove they live together and share finances
  • Must be jointly responsible for each other’s common welfare as evidenced by joint financial arrangements, or joint ownership of real or personal property
  • Must share a common residence in New Jersey, or in any other jurisdiction provided that at least one of the applicants is a member of a New Jersey State-administered retirement system
  • Must be at least 18 years old
  • Not already married or in another domestic partnership
  • Must not be related by blood or affinity up to and including the fourth degree of consanguinity
  • Must be a same-sex couple and unmarried, or an opposite-sex couple age 62+
  • Must “have chosen to share each other’s lives in a committed relationship of mutual caring”
  • Neither applicant has terminated another domestic partnership within the last 180 days, unless due to death

Non-residents of New Jersey may not register as domestic partners. Part-time residence seems to be allowed.

If either party is a member of one of the six New Jersey-administered retirement systems, the couple’s shared common residence may be outside New Jersey. Therefor, a non-resident couple could register if at least one partner were a State employee or an employee of a public agency that participated in one of the covered pension plans.

New Jersey government Web site information:

Resource:
  • New Jersey Domestic Partners: A Legal Guide by Stephen J. Hyland, Esq. (2005), $24.95, 202 Carnegie Center, Princeton, New Jersey 08543. An exhaustive, in-depth look at the Domestic Partnership Law; the protections, rights, responsibilities and limitations. Contains extensive legal information and forms vital for protecting your relationship. Hyland’s Web site also contains a lot of useful information: www.njdomesticpartnership.com
Differences Between Domestic Partner Registration and Legal Marriage
Registration
  1. Simple, notarized form registration
  2. No ceremony
  3. Mailed to the Office of Vital Records (handles business affairs)
  4. Conveys some rights
  5. Not a true next-of-kin
  6. Must cohabit
  7. Must share finances
  8. Ended by mailing a termination form
Legal Marriage
  1. License required
  2. No ceremony required
  3. License officiated by clergy, court, or justice of the peace
  4. Conveys hundreds of rights
  5. A true next-of-kin
  6. Can live apart
  7. Not required to share finances
  8. Divorce laws apply

Federal rights NOT Covered by Registration
  • Immigration Rights — Ability for a non-U.S. spouse to become a full citizen.
  • Social Security — Ability to collect benefits upon death of a spouse.
  • Federal Taxes — No joint filing. Pay taxes on job benefits.
  • More than 1,138 laws that are triggered by legal marriage [See: U.S. Federal Laws for the Legally Married]








Governments that offer Full Legal Marriage
Nations

    Netherlands (2001)
    Belgium (2003)
    Canada (2005)
    Spain (2005)
    South Africa (2005)
    Norway (2009)
    Sweden (2009)
    Iceland (2010)
    Argentina (2010)
    Portugal (2010)
    Denmark (2012)
    France (2013)
    New Zealand (2013)
    Brazil (2013)
    Uruguay (2013)
    New Zealand (2013)
    United Kingdom
      (England, Wales, Scotland) (2013)
    Luxembourg (2014)
    Finland (2014)
    Ireland (2015)
    Colombia (2016)
US States & Territories

    Massachusetts (2004)
    California (2008)
    Connecticut (2008)
    Iowa (2009)
    Vermont (2009)
    New Hampshire (2009)
    District of Columbia (2009)
    New York (2011)
    Maine (2012)
    Washington (2012)
    Maryland (2013)
    Rhode Island (2013)
    Delaware (2013)
    Minnesota (2013)
    Illinois (2013)
    Utah (2013)
    New Jersey (2013)
    Hawaii (2013)
    New Mexico (2013)
    Michigan (2014) - stayed pending legal challenge
    Oregon (2014)
    Wisconsin (2014)
    

    Arkansas (2014) - stayed pending legal challenge
    Pennsylvania (2014)
    Indiana (2014)
    Nevada (2014)
    Virginia (2014)
    Oklahoma (2014)
    Idaho (2014)
    West Virginia (2014)
    Alaska (2014)
    Arizona (2014)
    Wyoming (2014)
    Kansas (2014) - stayed pending legal challenge
    Florida (2014)
    Colorado (2014)
    North Carolina (2014)
    South Carolina (2014)
    Montana (2014)
    Alabama (2015)
    U.S. Supreme Court (June 26, 2015):
      Ruling: All U.S. States must now
      allow same-sex couples the
      freedom of legal marriage.
Native American Tribes

    Coquille Tribe, Oregon (2009)
    Mashantucket Pequot, Connecticut (2011)
    Suquamish Tribe, Washington (2011)
    Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Washington (2013)
    Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Minnesota (2013)
    Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, Michigan (2013)
    Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, Michigan (2013)
    Santa Ysabel Tribe, California (2013)
    Confederated Tribes of the Colville Nation, Washington (2013)
    Cheyenne, Oklahoma (2013)
    Arapaho, Oklahoma (2013)
    Leech Lake Tribal Court, Minnesota (2013)
    Puyallup Tribe, Washington (2914)
    Wind River Indian Reservation, Wyoming (2014)
    Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Michigan, (2014)
    Colville Confederated Tribes, Washington (2014)
    Central Council of Tlingit, Alaska (2015)
    Haida Indian Tribes, Alaska (2015)

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