History of Same-Sex Marriage in New Jersey
New Jersey has recognized same-sex marriage since 2013. In Garden State Equality v. Dow, the trial court directed State officials to permit same-sex couples, who were otherwise eligible, to enter into civil marriage starting on October 21, 2013. In Dow, the plaintiffs argued New Jersey's Civil Union Act violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by failing to provide equal treatment to same-sex couples. The court determined that civil union partners in New Jersey were indeed being denied equal access to federal benefits and, therefore the state must extend the right of civil marriage to same-sex couples. Governor Chris Christie expressed disagreement with the decision--however, he eventually opted to withdraw his appeal of the decision. On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide in Obergefell v. Hodges, with a majority opinion highlighting reasons why marriage is necessary for granting true equality to same-sex couples. Thus, same-sex couples married in another state permitting same-sex marriage do not have to remarry in New Jersey in order to have their marriage recognized in New Jersey. So long as the out-of-state marriage is consistent with the laws and public policy of New Jersey, the marriage is valid and will be recognized in New Jersey.
Prior to granting marriage equality to same-sex couples, the state of New Jersey was one of the first in the country to allow same-sex couples to file as domestic partners. The Domestic Partnership Act was later amended by the Civil Union Act implemented on February 19, 2007. Under New Jersey law, a civil union is the legally recognized union of two individuals of the same sex. Civil union couples receive the legal benefits and protections provided to married couples under New Jersey law. Nevertheless, a civil union is not legally a marriage.
What is a Dissolution?
The end to a civil union is accomplished through a “dissolution.” Under the Civil Union Act, when a civil union couple wishes to have their relationship legally dissolved, they must file a complaint for dissolution in family court. The dissolution process is controlled by divorce laws and principles—a civil union is dissolved in almost the same manner as a marriage is terminated.
Dissolution: A Process Similar to Divorce
Although New Jersey's civil union law states that the dissolution of civil unions are subject to the same rights and obligations involved in a divorce, the grounds available to civil union couples seeking a dissolution differ from those for married couples seeking a divorce. Nine grounds are available for divorce in New Jersey, while seven are available for civil union dissolution. Both married and civil union couples may file for termination of their relationships in New Jersey on grounds of:
- Extreme cruelty
- Separation for 18 or more consecutive months (the original no-fault divorce)
- Habitual drug addiction or drunkenness
- Institutionalization for mental illness for 24 or more consecutive months
- Imprisonment for 18 or more consecutive months
The following grounds are available to New Jersey married couples, but not to New Jersey civil union couples:
- Deviant sexual conduct voluntarily performed by the defendant without the consent of the plaintiff
- Irreconcilable differences
In the same way that alimony is a factor during divorce proceedings, civil union partners may be entitled to alimony or spousal support after dissolution. Additionally, whether or not to award equitable distribution upon dissolution will be decided in the same manner as during a divorce. Circumstances permitting, the court may award any of the four types of alimony: open durational alimony, rehabilitative alimony, limited duration alimony, and reimbursement alimony. New Jersey courts consider the following factors when awarding alimony:
- Actual need and ability of the parties to pay;
- Duration of the marriage or civil union;
- Age, physical and emotional health of the parties;
- Standard of living established in the marriage or civil union and the likelihood that each party can maintain a reasonably comparable standard of living;
- Earning capacities, educational levels, vocational skills, and employability of the parties;
- Length of absence from the job market of the party seeking maintenance;
- Parental responsibilities for the children;
- Time and expense necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking maintenance to find appropriate employment, the availability of the training and employment, and the opportunity for future acquisitions of capital assets and income;
- History of the financial or non-financial contributions to the marriage or civil union by each party including contributions to the care and education of the children and interruption of personal careers or educational opportunities;
- Equitable distribution of property ordered and any payouts on equitable distribution, directly or indirectly, out of current income, to the extent this consideration is reasonable, just and fair;
- Income available to either party through investment of any assets held by that party;
- Tax treatment and consequences to both parties of any alimony award, including the designation of all or a portion of the payment as a non-taxable payment;
- The nature, amount, and length of pendent lite support paid, if any; and
- Any other factors which the court may deem relevant.
Ending a Civil Union
The end of any relationship can be difficult and overwhelming. Fortunately, the laws in New Jersey governing marriage divorce and civil union dissolution share many similarities. This allows the process of legally ending a relationship to be easier to understand and effectuate. If you are considering a dissolution of your civil union or a divorce, you will need a divorce attorney who can help you through this process. The matrimonial attorneys at Villani & DeLuca, P.C. have the experience you need in order to get through your divorce or dissolution.