Article: New Jersey Domestic Partnership Act 2
New Jersey Domestic Partnership Act
Employee Health Care and Pension Benefits
State employees are now entitled to health insurance coverage for their same-sex domestic partners just as spouses are so entitled. N.J.S.A. 26:8A-1; Hyland, S., A Legal Guide For New Jersey Domestic Partners, www.njdomesticpartnership.com, at p. 34. Other public employees may be entitled to such coverage, if the employer adopts such a resolution. For private employees, although there is no requirement that the employer offer coverage for same-sex domestic partners, the Act does require that insurers offer such coverage. Id.
State and public employees may also be entitled to pension benefits for their same-sex domestic partners. See N.J.S.A. 26:8A-1.
Law Against Discrimination
The Act includes protection against various forms of discrimination on the basis of status as a member of a domestic partnership, pursuant to the Law Against Discrimination. N.J.S.A. 26:8A-2; N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 et seq. As a result of the Act, domestic partners who have registered under the Act are protected from discrimination in many critical areas, such as employment, public accommodations, housing, credit and contracting.
Health Care Issues
Couples who have filed an Affidavit of Domestic Partnership are to be allowed, in emergency medical situations, to accompany the other when being transported to a hospital, or visit with the other who is in the hospital, to the same extent as would a member of the immediate family. N.J.S.A. 26:8A-6.
Although the Act requires that domestic partners agree to be “jointly responsible for each other’s basic living expenses” (defined as “the cost of basic food and shelter, and any other cost, including, but not limited to, the cost of health care, if some or all of the cost is paid as a benefit because a person is another person’s domestic partner,” N.J.S.A. 26:8A-3), N.J.S.A. 26:8A-4), the Act also states that one partner is not liable for debts that the other incurs prior to the establishment of the domestic partnership, or for the debts incurred by the other “in his own name” during the partnership. N.J.S.A.26:8A-6(g). The partner incurring such debt(s) is separately liable and may be sued separately, and his property is liable to satisfy such debts as if he had not entered into a domestic partnership. Id. The Act does permit domestic partners to contractually agree to assume joint responsibility for each other’s prior debts, and to jointly contract for new debt.
A domestic partnership, civil union or the like that is validly created in another jurisdiction is recognized as valid in New Jersey.
TERMINATION OF A DOMESTIC PARTNERSHIP
The Act gives the Superior Court jurisdiction over the termination of a domestic partnership, including the division of jointly held property. N.J.S.A. 26:8A-10. However, the court is not required to effect an equitable distribution of property.
Opposite-sex domestic partnerships will automatically terminate upon the legal marriage of the partners. N.J.S.A. 26:8A-1.
If a domestic partner has given a copy of a Certificate of Domestic Partnership to a third party in order to qualify for a benefit or right, that partner must give notice to that third party upon termination of the partnership.
LIMITATIONS OF THE ACT
It is important to recognize that there are many protections afforded to married couples which are not extended to domestic partners under the Act, including intestacy rights, federal rights (such as federal income and inheritance tax, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other benefits), and realty transfer tax exemptions. Hyland, S., A Legal Guide For New Jersey Domestic Partners,www.njdomesticpartnership.com, at p. 34.
EXPANDING THE SCOPE OF THE ACT BY PRIVATE CONTRACT
Notably, under the Act, domestic partners who meet the requirements for domestic partnership are expressly given the right to modify their rights and obligations by private contract. N.J.S.A. 26:8A-6(e). This provision endorses the concept of cohabitation agreements and other private agreements, and should be kept in mind by practitioners when counseling clients who are contemplating entering into a domestic partnership. Because the Act extends to unmarried opposite-sex couples over age 62, practitioners should be mindful of the implications of the Act in providing advice to clients in such areas as retirement and estate planning.
RIGHTS FOR UNREGISTERED COUPLES
In a medical emergency, unregistered domestic partners will be treated as registered, allowing one unregistered partner to accompany the other while being transported to the hospital. This emergency recognition also allows unregistered domestic partners to visit each other in the hospital, just as any other family member is allowed.
In addition, the Act allows any individual or entity in the State, including employers, health care providers such as hospitals or doctors, property owners such as landlord, and others to treat domestic partners as members of a domestic partnership, even if they have not registered. The extent of this voluntary recognition is entirely up to the individual or entity, and the recognition can be withdrawn at any time.
Information and forms relating to the Domestic Partnership Act may be obtained from the following sources:
New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services Domestic Partnership hotline: (866) 722-8218
Hyland, Stephen J., (2004) A Legal Guide For New Jersey Domestic Partners, is available online at www.njdomesticpartnership.com.
New Jersey Division of Aging Services: www.nj.gov/humanservices/doas/home/
Office of the State Registrar: (609) 984-3445
New Jersey Department of the Treasury website: www.state.nj.us/treasury/
For additional information regarding The New Jersey Domestic Partnership Act, call us at 908-232-7400 or click here to contact us online.