Same-sex couples navigating divorce often encounter unique legal challenges. In years past, many couples in New Jersey sought additional legal arrangements like civil unions and domestic partnerships.
These pre-existing legal ties, though necessary at the time, can complicate the divorce process today.
Equitable distribution of property
In New Jersey, the concept of equitable distribution applies in divorce proceedings. This means the court divides marital property in a fair manner by considering various factors. The length of the relationship, both partners’ finances and contributions to marital assets are all important.
Dividing property can be especially challenging for some same-sex couples. Before marriage equality became legal in New Jersey in 2013, the law classified same-sex couples as single individuals. As a result, assets that were in one spouse’s name before legal marriage might not count as marital property. This distinction could even apply to a home the couple shared for many years. While judges may sometimes apply the doctrine of transmutation and consider such assets as jointly owned, they have no legal obligation to do so.
Civil unions and domestic partnerships
For couples with civil unions or domestic partnerships, New Jersey law allows for conversion to marriage without dissolving previous legal relationships. This adds complexity during divorce proceedings. For instance, you may have assets from the civil union that are also part of the marriage. Division of these assets can become a point of contention.
Domestic partnerships generally have fewer legal rights compared to marriages or civil unions. There is no equitable distribution or alimony involved unless explicitly stated in a cohabitation agreement. In most cases, it is advisable to have a written agreement in place before entering a domestic partnership.
While the rules for property division are generally similar for all couples in New Jersey, the nuances of same-sex relationships, civil unions and domestic partnerships add distinct complications.