Roz Quarto on civil unions and domestic partnerships

Answers to Your Real-life Legal Problems
Dear Roz:

My partner and I currently live in New York but we are planning on moving to New Jersey next month. We are registered as domestic partners in New York and were married in Canada in December of 2003. We would like some guidance on whether we are considered married and what we need to do, if anything, now that New Jersey has civil unions.


Dear Donna:

It is an exciting time to be gay and lesbian in New Jersey, but it is also a little confusing. Although New Jersey’s new Civil Union Law does not recognize your New York domestic partnership registration, New Jersey will in fact consider anyone married in Canada or Massachusetts to be “civil-unioned” in New Jersey. Additionally, if anyone is domestic partnered in California or civil-unioned in Connecticut, New Jersey will also consider you civil-unioned. In those instances, just like if you were a heterosexual couple that married in one state and moved to another, recognition is automatic and you need not formally apply for a civil union license, file any additional documentation or be civil unioned again in New Jersey. Note, however, that some of the gay and lesbian legal service providers recommend that people cover all of their bases and apply for New Jersey civil union licenses in New Jersey. Consult your own attorney with your specific situation to determine whether this is necessary, because differing dates of your unions could cause a problem in the future.

So what does this all mean? In essence, the New Jersey Civil Union law extends all of the state laws in New Jersey relating to both marriage rights and obligations to same-sex couples that enter into Civil Unions. In a nutshell, since you and your partner were married in Canada, New Jersey will treat you in the same manner that it treats married couples in all areas, from state taxes, custody and divorce to insurance, property and inheritance rights. But you will also be held to obligations that did not exist in our community in the past. For example, if a civil-unioned couple breaks up, divorce courts will now have to get involved and one party may be entitled to alimony and other types of support from the other.

Good luck on your move, and like always, consult with an experienced attorney before making any major decisions that may affect your rights and responsibilities to one another.

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*This column is not a consultation with an attorney and should in no way be construed as such or as a substitute for such a consultation.  Anyone with legal issues or concerns should seek the advice of her own attorney.