Spousal Rights in New Jersey

New Jersey Civil Unions  

While New York now recognizes same sex marriage, New Jersey has recognized same sex civil unions since 2006.  In December 2006 the Civil Union Act was signed into law in New Jersey.  The Act created “civil unions” for same sex couples in a committed relationship. The law was created in response to a decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court in Lewis v. Harris. The Court held unanimously that “that “committed same-sex couples must be afforded on equal terms the same rights and benefits enjoyed by married opposite-sex couples.”

Same Sex Civil Unions Have Same Rights as Married Couples

Section 4 of the Civil Union Act gives partners in civil union couples “all of the same benefits, protections and responsibilities under the law, whether they derive from statute, administrative or court rule, public policy, common law or any other source of civil law, as are granted to spouses in a marriage.” Section 5n of the Civil Union Act provides that “legal benefits, protections and responsibilities of spouses shall apply in like manner to civil union couples” to “laws relating to taxes imposed by the State or a municipality including but not limited to homestead rebate tax allowances, tax deductions based on marital status or exemptions from realty transfer tax based on marital status.”

Does Not Apply to Federal Benefits

In estate planning, this means that civil union couples can take advantage of tax benefits afforded to spouses, but only as they taxes relate to New Jersey. The problem with the Civil Union Act is the same problem same-sex married couples have in New York.  The Act only applies to state law and does not apply to federal law.  Under the federal Defense of Marriage Act, “DOMA”, same sex marriages are not recognized which means same sex civil union couples cannot take advantage of federal estate tax benefits. For example, if a husband dies he can leave his entire estate to his wife and not pay federal estate tax but this benefit would not be available to civil union partners.

Getting Legal Help

Experienced Estate Planning Attorney Elga Goodman also helped many couples understand the best strategies for preserving assets and taking care of loved ones and she can help you create a plan for individual family’s needs. Call us today at 973-841-5111.

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