Considering the relatively recent creation of civil unions, many couples have questions about their legal rights when they enter into this status, as well as upon its dissolution. Advising people across New Jersey from offices in Westfield and Summit, the experienced New Jersey family law attorneys at Lindabury, McCormick, Estabrook & Cooper can address any concerns you may have and provide legal information regarding your rights in a civil union.Rights Conferred by Civil Unions
New Jersey law was amended in 2007 to recognize civil unions between two people of the same sex. The law provides that couples in civil unions have all of the same benefits, protections, and responsibilities under state law in New Jersey as spouses in a marriage. Such rights may include those regarding inheritance and probate, state tax treatment, health insurance and pension benefits, workers’ compensation, adoption, wrongful death claims, family leave, and health care directives.
On the other hand, the federal government does not recognize civil unions, and therefore couples will not receive the federal benefits and protections provided to a married couple, such as federal tax treatment, Social Security benefits, or veterans’ benefits. New Jersey recognizes civil unions and marriages entered into in other states, although whether a New Jersey civil union will be valid outside the state depends on that state’s law.
Just like a marriage, a civil union may be dissolved by filing a complaint in the Superior Court. The parties will be afforded the same rights and obligations as in a marriage dissolution proceeding under New Jersey law, including potential alimony and the equitable distribution of property. However, there are federal tax consequences to consider that would not apply in a standard divorce. For example, it is important to note that alimony is not tax-deductable by the payor and not taxable to the supported partner in federal tax returns. In addition, any property or assets distribution would be federally taxed.
With the recent changes in federal law allowing same-sex couples the right to marry, many couples in civil unions are uncertain as to what their status is. Essentially, civil unions are not affected by the Supreme Court decisions in Windsor and Obergefell, which affect only same-sex marriages, not civil unions. This means that no additional rights are granted to couples in civil unions. If couples in civil unions wish to marry and receive the benefits associated with marriage, therefore, they must obtain a marriage license to convert their civil union into a marriage. All of the laws that apply to traditional marriage also apply to same-sex marriage, including those concerning divorce, equitable distribution of property, and alimony.Discuss Your Dissolution Proceeding with a New Jersey Attorney
Due to the evolving law in this area, discussing your concerns with a knowledgeable New Jersey divorce lawyer can be useful to New Jersey residents who are considering dissolving a civil union. At Lindabury, McCormick, Estabrook & Cooper, our attorneys provide ethical and diligent legal representation in family law matters ranging from the dissolution of civil unions and marriages to modifications of child custody and support arrangements. We operate offices in Westfield, Summit, and Red Bank from which we can assist people in communities such as Asbury Park, Sea Girt, Woodbridge, South Orange, Morris Township, Scotch Plains, and Branchburg. Call us at (908) 233-6800 or contact us online for a consultation.