On December 21, 2006, New Jersey’s governor signed the state’s civil unions bill into law, giving same-sex couples all the legal benefits, protections, rights and responsibilities available under state law to married couples. This legislation, which amends New Jersey’s marriage statute, took effect on February 19, 2007.
Who can enter into a civil union?
For two persons to establish a civil union in New Jersey, they must:
- be of the same sex
- be at least 18 years of age
[or meet the requirements associated with obtaining consent for minors]
- not be a party to another civil union, domestic partnership or marriage
Who can perform the civil union ceremony?
The ceremony can be performed by anyone authorized to perform marriages in New Jersey. This includes the following individuals:
- any federal, state, municipal judge or magistrate (even if they are retired)
- any county clerk
- any county surrogate
- any mayor or deputy mayor of a town
- the chairman of any township committee
- any religious minister
What are the benefits of entering into a civil union?
Civil union couples have all the same rights available to married couples under New Jersey law. Examples of the benefits, protections and responsibilities granted to spouses in a marriage which apply to parties in a civil union are as follows:
- laws governing separation, divorce, custody, alimony and property division
- rights relating to the acquisition, ownership and transfer of real and personal property, including the right to hold property as tenants by the entirety (protects property from some creditors)
- the right to make medical decisions for an incapacitated spouse; hospital visitation
- rights relating to inheritance, probate law and procedures
- adoption law and procedures
- co-parenting privileges and responsibilities
- laws relating to state and municipal taxes (i.e., homestead rebates, tax deductions or exemptions from realty transfer tax based on marital status)
- rights relating to insurance, health and pension benefits
- workers’ compensation benefits, family leave benefits, public assistance benefits under New Jersey law
- domestic violence protections
- prohibitions against discrimination based upon marital status
- causes of action related to or dependent upon spousal status (i.e., an action for wrongful death, emotional distress, loss of consortium)
- victim’s compensation benefits (i.e., compensation to spouse, children and relatives of homicide victims)
- marital communication privilege and the right of one spouse to refuse to testify against the other
- the ability to change a surname without petitioning the court
- state pay for military service
- application for vote by mail ballots
- legal requirements for assignment of wages
- laws related to tuition assistance for higher education for surviving spouses or children
Does the federal government recognize the civil union?
The federal government does not recognize civil unions. This means that the parties in a civil union do not enjoy any of the rights available to married couples under federal law. Examples of the benefits and protections not available to civil union couples under federal law are as follows:
- couples in civil unions will not be able to file joint federal income tax returns
- entering into a civil union with a non-U.S. resident will not allow him/her to obtain U.S. citizenship based on the relationship
- the surviving partner will not be able to collect a deceased partner’s Social Security or veteran’s survivor benefits
- health insurance benefits provided by a partner’s employer will be regarded as income for the purpose of federal taxes
Does New Jersey recognize a civil union entered into outside of NJ?
A civil union entered into outside of New Jersey will be recognized in New Jersey, provided it was valid under the laws of the jurisdiction where it was created. Same-sex couples who entered into a valid civil union in another state may choose to enter into a civil union in New Jersey as well but it is not required.
What about other same-sex relationships entered into outside of NJ?
To expand upon the previous answer, New Jersey will recognize same-sex relationships legally established under the laws of other states and countries. According to New Jersey’s Attorney General, the manner in which the relationship is treated in New Jersey will be determined by the nature of the rights and duties conferred by the other jurisdiction. Same-sex relationships that most closely approximate a New Jersey civil union—meaning relationships that provide substantially all of the rights and obligations of marriage—will be treated as civil unions in New Jersey. Those that most closely approximate New Jersey domestic partnerships—meaning relationships that provide some, but not all of the rights and obligations of marriage—will be treated as domestic partnerships. The various names used by other jurisdictions to describe the relationships will have no bearing.
As of this writing, the following same-sex relationships will be valid in New Jersey and treated as civil unions (updated 1/1/2013):
- same-sex civil unions from Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois and Rhode Island
- same-sex marriages from Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Washington, D.C., New York and Washington
- same-sex civil unions and same-sex marriages from Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont
- same-sex domestic partnerships and same-sex marriages from California
- same-sex marriages from Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium, South Africa, Spain and Norway
- same-sex relationships (which have a variety of names) from Great Britain, New Zealand, Iceland and Sweden
Same-sex couples in any of the above relationships may choose to enter into a civil union in New Jersey but it is not required.
What becomes of NJ’s Domestic Partnership Act which was passed in 2004?
As of February 19, 2007, domestic partnerships may only be registered by same-sex or opposite-sex couples 62 years of age or older. No additional same-sex couples under 62 years of age can register.
What if I am already in a registered domestic partnership?
Same-sex couples who entered into a domestic partnership before February 19, 2007 may enter into a civil union with the same partner by following the civil union process outlined below. Once the couple enters into the civil union, their previous domestic partnership terminates and the rights of the civil union apply.
Same-sex couples who entered into a domestic partnership before February 19, 2007 and who choose not to enter into a civil union are afforded the rights of domestic partners and not the rights granted civil union couples. Their domestic partnership remains in effect as it was registered under the requirements of the law in place at the time they registered.
If one of the parties to a domestic partnership wishes to form a civil union with a new partner, the domestic partnership must first be terminated. Domestic partnership terminations are handled in the Superior Court using essentially the same statutory grounds as marital dissolutions.
In order to establish a civil union in New Jersey, the parties must apply for and obtain a civil union license. In Randolph, licenses are handled by the Registrar of Vital Statistics.
You would apply for a civil union license in Randolph if…
- either party resides in Randolph OR
[the license will be valid in any New Jersey municipality]
- neither party is a resident of New Jersey but the proposed civil union will be performed in Randolph [the license will only be valid in Randolph]
For your convenience, we have made the Application for Civil Union License available online. To view it, you will need the freely available Adobe Reader software installed on your computer, version 4 or higher. This is a “fillable form” and may be filled out on your computer. Complete instructions are provided on the first page of the application.
You are not required to download and complete the application form in advance of your visit to the Registrar but doing so will make the process that much easier. If you do complete the form in advance, please do not sign the application as it must be signed under oath in the presence of the issuing authority.
Both parties to the civil union must appear in person to apply for the license. You will need to bring copies of your birth certificates, current driver’s licenses or passports (cannot be expired), know your social security numbers and provide proof of residency such as a driver’s license, lease, tax return, etc.
If either party has been in a marriage, domestic partnership or civil union before, a copy of a death certificate, divorce decree, dissolution of civil union or termination of domestic partnership must be submitted with the application.
A witness also at least eighteen (18) years of age who knows both of the parties to the civil union must appear with the applicants and swear to the completeness and accuracy of the answers supplied by the applicants.
The application fee is $28.00, payable by check, cash or money order. If the applicants wish to have both a civil and religious ceremony performed on the same day, two licenses will be issued and two fees will be collected.
If the applicants wish to have two religious ceremonies, they must apply for only one license, use it, and then return to the Registrar, complete another license application and pay the $28.00 fee. The same application form is used for both licenses; the distinction is made by checking the box at the top of the form indicating the application is for a “Reaffirmation of Civil Union” license.
There is a 72 hour waiting period after the application has been made before the license can be issued (there is no waiting period for a “Reaffirmation of Civil Union” license). If the civil union is scheduled for a Saturday or Sunday, the application should be made no later than the preceding Tuesday. Holidays and weekends are not considered working days and do not count toward the 72 hours. In case of emergency, a Superior Court judge has the authority to waive all or part of the waiting period.
If the applicants cannot come in at the same time, either may complete his/her part of the application and start the waiting period. The other applicant must return with the same witness to complete his/her part of the application. The application must be completed by both parties before the license will be issued.
Once filed, the application is valid for six months; the license, once issued, is valid for thirty days.
Please call ahead for an appointment.
The Registrar may be reached by calling 973.989.7050.