While many couples choose to pursue marriage, others end up in a civil union. A civil union is a marriage alternative for same-sex partners, or partners who seek to have certain benefits of a marriage, but without having to go through the full process of marriage. With the national legalization of same-sex marriage in June 2015, civil unions have become less common. However, some partners may still choose to enter one based on the uniqueness of their relationship.
Sometimes, though, couples discover that their unions end up not working out as intended, or they determine they would rather be in a more formal marriage situation. Whatever the initiating factor, the couple must first go to court to file for a dissolution of the civil union prior to moving forward.
If you or your loved one are trying to dissolve a civil union in New Jersey, Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his Family Law Team can help ease the burden from your shoulders. Call Lento Law Firm today for a consultation.
Forming A Civil Union in New Jersey
Before understanding how a civil union is dissolved, it is important to understand just how one is formed – as it is different from filing for a marriage license.
To obtain a civil union in New Jersey, the parties must be over the age of 18 or have their parents' or guardians' consent, not be a party to another civil union, marriage, or domestic partnership, and not be closely related to each other. After applying for the license, they will be required to wait 72 hours before receiving their civil union.
It is important to understand that a civil union is not like a common-law marriage. New Jersey does not recognize common-law marriages and therefore does not provide such couples with the rights they would receive under a civil union or marriage. As such, for a civil union to be recognized in New Jersey, a valid license must be obtained.
Difference Between a Civil Union and a Domestic Partnership
While the terms “civil union” and “domestic partnership” are used interchangeably, they are actually different under New Jersey law. For instance, domestic partnerships do not result in joint property rights or shared debt responsibility the way a marriage or civil union does. As such, when a domestic partnership is dissolved, neither party has any right to alimony or equitable distribution of the assets.
To form a domestic partnership, both parties must file an Affidavit of Domestic Partnership at the Local Registrar of Vital Statistics. For a domestic partnership to be valid, the couple must either be a same-sex couple or opposite-sex couple who are each over the age of 62, share a common residence, be jointly responsible for the other's welfare and living expenses, and have chosen to live in a committed relationship. Additionally, they cannot be related by blood or be involved in another marriage, civil union, or domestic partnership.
How Do a Civil Union and Marriage Differ in New Jersey?
While civil unions and marriage are certainly similar in New Jersey, there are certain rights that individuals in a civil union will not receive, including federal benefits, responsibilities, and protections. Further, civil unions will only be recognized in states where civil unions are offered. And, even then, if the state has different standards than New Jersey for a civil union to be valid, your civil union only be valid if it abides by those standards.
Dissolving A Civil Union
In New Jersey, individuals in a marriage can file for divorce under no-fault or fault-based options. Under no-fault divorces, the couple claims they cannot stay together any longer because they do not get along anymore, and there is no reasonable chance they will get back together. But fault-based divorce, on the other hand, is made on the grounds that one spouse did something bad that ended the marriage.
While a civil union is equal to a marriage and, as such, will undergo relatively the same process as a divorce, according to New Jersey law, there are some differences. For instance, while the residency requirement for a divorce and civil union dissolution are the same – one of the partners to the civil union must have lived in New Jersey for at least a year prior to filing for dissolution – civil unions can only be dissolved for specific reasons.
To pursue a dissolution of a civil union, one member of the couple must assert one of the following grounds:
- Desertion: one spouse has abandoned the relationship for at least 1 year or more.
- Extreme Cruelty: Extreme cruelty is a broad category, but the most common example of this is when one partner is abusive in any way towards the other, especially in cases of domestic violence.
- Separation for 18 consecutive months or more.
- Habitual drug addiction or drunkenness for 12 months or more.
- Institutionalization for mental illness for 24 consecutive months or more.
- Imprisonment for 18 consecutive months or more.
But civil union couples cannot file for dissolution on the grounds of adultery, deviant sexual conduct, or irreconcilable differences – only married couples have the right to file for divorce under these grounds.
Civil Union Dissolution Process
Once the partner seeking dissolution can show that their civil union meets one of these fault-based grounds described above, the dissolution process begins. Because civil unions are similar to marriages, courts must consider who is entitled to alimony, spousal support, or child support after dissolution, as well as whether or not equitable distribution is appropriate.
Alimony or Spousal Support
In New Jersey, courts may award alimony to one of the parties. To determine whether alimony is necessary, the court will consider the following factors:
- Actual need and ability of the parties to pay.
- Duration of the civil union.
- Standard of living established during the civil union and the likelihood that either party is able to maintain a comparable standard of living.
- Earning capacity of either party.
- Educational levels.
- Vocational skills.
- Employment capability of either party.
- Parental responsibilities of children.
- Investment income.
- The time it could take either party to become financially self-sufficient, including how long it would take them to pursue an education or training that would benefit their income.
- Any other factors the court deems relevant.
Under New Jersey law, in the event of a civil union dissolution, the marital property is not necessarily split 50-50. Instead, it is divided in a manner that is fair but not necessarily equal – equitable distribution. To distribute assets, the court will first identify which assets are to be distributed, which could include anything from a business, a bank account, or pensions.
Usually, it includes property that was acquired by one or both spouses after the date of their civil union filing until the day it is dissolved. In addition, equitable distribution tends to exclude separate property, like property acquired before or after the marriage or gifts or inheritance they received during the marriage.
The court will determine the market value for each piece of property and determine the most equitable way to distribute the assets between the parties. To figure this out, they will consider several factors, including:
- How long the civil union lasted for,
- The age, physical and emotional health of the parties,
- The income or property either party brought into the marriage,
- The standard of living during the marriage,
- Any written agreement made by the parties before or during the marriage about how property will be divided,
- And the income and earning capacity of either party.
The court will also consider any debts and liabilities of the parties, the tax consequences for the proposed distribution, and the needs of a parent with physical custody of a child.
Like married couples and unmarried couples, individuals in a civil union who have children together are entitled to child support. To determine who will be paying child support, the court will look at:
- The fair income of both parents.
- The taxes and deductions of both parents.
- The combined net income of both parents.
- And special deductions or additional expenses that one parent must pay over the other.
How an Experienced Family Court Attorney Can Help
While New Jersey may allow a couple to convert their civil unions into full marriage, a dissolution of the civil union must be pursued first. If you or a loved one is seeking the dissolution of a civil union, Attorney Joseph D. Lento can help.
Attorney Lento is a skilled attorney who understands the ins and outs of family court in New Jersey. Whatever the reason, pursuing a civil union dissolution can have a myriad of consequences on your current life, including dividing up your property, family, and children's lives. As such, these proceedings have just as much emotional turmoil as a divorce filing and should be treated the same.
Working with Attorney Lento will ensure you receive the best possible outcome for your case. Call 888-535-3686 today to schedule a consultation or visit us online.