In 2004, New Jersey passed the Domestic Partnership Act. It was the first time our state had recognized that same sex partners have equally supportive relationships comparable to a heterosexual marriage and therefore should be granted certain rights and benefits. Under the act initially, same-sex couples age 18 or older and opposite-sex couples age 62 and older could enter into a domestic partnership pursuant to the act’s criteria. However, the implementation of the Civil Union Act in 2007 limited domestic partnership rights to couples only over the age of 62. Even with this limitation, the legislation is still effective in providing for protection against discrimination against domestic partners. Additionally, the act continues to provide domestic partners visitation rights, healthcare rights, and certain tax related benefits.

Do my partner and I meet the requirements of a domestic partnership?

Domestic partnerships as recognized by the state of New Jersey are two persons of the same sex who are each at least 62 years old and meet the following criteria:

1. Both persons have a common residence and are, otherwise, jointly responsible for each other’s common welfare. To prove this, the partners must demonstrate at least one of the following:

a. A joint deed to a house, mortgage agreement, or lease;

b. A joint bank account;

c. Joint ownership of a car;

d. Designation of one of the partners as a primary beneficiary to the other’s will;

e. Designation of one of the partners as a primary beneficiary to the other’s life insurance policy or retirement plan.

2. Both persons agree to be jointly responsible for each other’s basic living expenses during the domestic partnership;

3. Neither person is in a marriage recognized by New Jersey Law or a member of another domestic partnership;

4. Neither person is related to the other by blood or affinity up to and including the fourth degree of consanguinity;

5. Both persons are at least 18 years old;

6. Both persons have chosen to share each other’s lives in a committed relationship or reciprocal care;

7. Both persons file jointly an Affidavit of Domestic Partnership; and

8. Neither person has been a partner in a domestic partnership that was terminated less than 180 days prior to the filing of the current Affidavit of Domestic Partnership, except in the case of death.

What are the obligations of domestic partnerships?

The most basic requirement of a domestic partnership in New Jersey is that the partners are both responsible to provide for each other’s fundamental living expenses. Such expenses include costs associated with food, housing, clothing, and healthcare. If one party is unable to provide for him or herself, it is the duty of the other partner to take care of his or her mate.

What is not covered by a domestic partnership?

There are three main issues that are not covered by a domestic partnership. The first is that if a court ends the partnership, neither partner is responsible for the debts of the other. Furthermore, domestic partners are not responsible for the liabilities of the other partner that were obtained prior to the creation of the domestic partnership. A partner who contracts for debt in his or her own name can potentially be sued separately in his or her own name. Additionally, any real property belonging to that partner is also liable to fulfill that debt in the same manner as if the partner had not entered into a domestic partnership in the first place. Lastly, a court cannot grant an equitable distribution of property, which has been lawfully and constructively required, by both domestic partners or either domestic partners during the domestic partnership.

Can my domestic partnership be terminated?

In New Jersey the Family Part of the Superior Court has the ability to end a domestic partnership. The process to terminate such a relationship is similar to the dissolution of marriage. The following are grounds that constitute such termination:

1. Voluntarily having sexual intercourse with another person other than your partner in the domestic partnership

2. Willful and continued desertion for a period of one year or more

3. Extreme cruelty

a. This can include physical and mental cruelty that endangers the safety or health of the party seeking termination of the domestic partnership. Also, both types of cruelty can make it improper or unreasonable to expect the party seeking termination of the domestic partnership to continue to live with the opposing party.

4. Separation for an 18 month period or longer

5. Voluntary habituation or induced additional to any narcotic drug

6. Institutionalization for mental illness for two successive years or more

7. Imprisonment for 18 successive months or more

8. For two partners, age 62 or older and of the opposite sex, the domestic partnership is terminated if the partners enter into a lawfully recognizable marriage by the state of New Jersey