The New Jersey Domestic Partnership Act (DPA) is a state law that grants couples certain basic rights, such as the right to make health care decisions and to receive tax exemptions. The law applies only to
- same-sex and opposite-sex couples who have reached the age of 62,
- couples younger than that who entered a domestic partnership before the law was revised in Febuary 2007,
- and couples who have entered a domestic partnership or relationship status with similar rights and obligations outside of New Jersey.
How does a couple know if they are eligible to register as domestic partners?
Two individuals that meets all of the requirements below may enter a domestic partnership under New Jersey law:
- Both share a common residence.
- Both agree to be jointly responsible for each other’s welfare.
- Both are 62 years of age or older.
- Neither person is in a marriage, domestic partnership, or civil union recognized by New Jersey law.
- Neither person has terminated another domestic partnership within the last 180 days prior to filing the current affidavit of domestic partnership. (There is an exception if one partner has died.)
- The two people are not legally related to each other by blood, adoption, or marriage closer than the fourth degree of sanguinuity. (They cannot be third cousins or closer.)
- Both agree to be jointly responsible for each other’s basic living expenses during the domestic partnership, and
- Both choose to share each other’s life in a committed relationship of mutual caring.
Where can I register for a domestic partnership?
In order to register as domestic partners under the DPA, each person must file an affidavit of domestic partnership with the local registrar of any municipality in New Jersey. A couple does not have to file in the municipality where they reside. The DPA permits the couple to file in the municipality of their choice.
The Department of Health and Senior Services Web site has a list of local registrars.
What forms do I need to register?
To register as domestic partners, each person must file a form called an affidavit of domestic partnership. This is a sworn statement that sets forth the following information:
- Each person’s name and age,
- Each person’s common mailing address, and
- A statement that both parties wish to enter into a domestic partnership with each other. This statement must meet the requirements of the DPA when the affidavit is signed.
All statements in the affidavit must be true. A person who files for a domestic partnership knowing that he or she cannot meet the requirements listed above will be liable for a civil penalty of up to $1,000.
The affidavit of domestic partnership must be completed and signed by both people at the same time in the presence of a notary public. (A notary is a person who is licensed to officially witness the signing of important documents.) To find a notary, call your local registrar’s office or check with local banks—most banks have at least one notary on staff.
Where can I get an Affidavit of Domestic Partnership?
You may obtain an Affidavit of Domestic Partnership from the local registrar of any municipality in New Jersey. You can see a sample Affidavit of Domestic Partnership on the Department of Health and Senior Services Web site.
Are there any other required documents?
Yes. You and your partner will need to bring additional documents with you to the office of a local registrar. Those documents include:
- Identification issued by a state agency that establishes name, age, and date of birth, such as a driver license, birth certificate, or other state, county, municipal, or military ID card.
- Proof of residence in New Jersey, such as:
- Mail addressed to each partner,
- A copy of a lease or deed to property,
- A tax bill, or
- A copy of a driver license.
- Only if both individuals reside outside of New Jersey: Proof that either individual is a member of a retirement system administered by the State of New Jersey, such as:
- Personal benefits statement from the current or previous year,
- A 1099R from the current or previous year, or
- A certificate of pension membership.
- Proof of joint financial responsibility, such as:
- A deed listing both people as owners of property,
- A mortgage agreement listing both people as responsible for the mortgage,
- A lease listing both people as co-tenants,
- The designation of one person as the primary beneficiary of the will of the other person,
- The designation of one person as primary beneficiary in the other person’s insurance policy or retirement plan, or
- Title to a motor vehicle listing both individuals as co-owners.
Is there a fee to file for a domestic partnership?
Yes. The fee to register for a domestic partnership is $28. There is also a $5 charge for each certified copy of the Certification of Domestic Partnership.
What happens when the Affidavit of Domestic Partnership is completed?
The registrar will stamp each completed Affidavit of Domestic Partnership with the date that it is received and the name of the registration district in which it is filed. He or she will then give two copies of the stamped Affidavit of Domestic Partnership to the person or people filing that document.
Next, the registrar will complete a Certificate of Domestic Partnership (CDP) with the domestic partners’ relevant information and the date that the domestic partnership was established. When this is done, the registrar will give to the domestic partners two copies of the CDP and two copies of a Notice of the Rights and Obligations of Domestic Partners.
The registrar is then responsible for making certain that copies of the CDP are prepared and recorded in both the local registrar’s and the state registrar’s records.
What are the responsibilities of registered domestic partners to each other?
- Each partner has the duty to be responsible for the basic living expenses of the other while the domestic partnership is still ongoing.
- Domestic partners can agree to be responsible for each other in additional ways that are beyond what is required by the DPA. In order to be clear about these responsibilities, they should be written into a contract and signed by both parties. For instance, domestic partners can agree that, if they separate and terminate their partnership, they will split all of the partnership property and debts equally. Or they can decide that a partner who has been working will be responsible to pay support to a partner who remained at home taking care of children.
- Palimony – ongoing support after the termination of a domestic partnership – may be available for ongoing support if the domestic partners include such terms in a written agreement or if such an agreement can be implied from the actions of the partners, both during and before the domestic partnership was entered.
What are the rights and benefits of registered domestic partners?
Registered domestic partners have the following rights:
- The right to decide about medical treatment and to visit in the hospital
- Each domestic partner has the right to make medical treatment decisions on behalf of the other.
- While in a hospital, a domestic partner has visitation rights equal to those of a spouse.
- Upon the death of one domestic partner, the other domestic partner has the right to make funeral or other arrangements to dispose of the remains of the deceased.
- New Jersey state tax benefits
- A registered domestic partner can claim the other partner as a dependant on his or her New Jersey state tax return. (Note: This is not true for the purposes of federal tax returns.)
- A registered domestic partner can make a gift or transfer property in life or in a will to the other partner, and the partner receiving the gift or transfer does not have to pay New Jersey state estate or gift taxes.
- Public employee benefits
- Under the DPA, group health insurance coverage for state employees is extended to domestic partners and the children of domestic partners.
- Domestic partners of state, county, and municipal employees are also entitled to pension and retirement benefits.
- If a domestic partner dies without a will, the domestic partner has the same rights of inheritance that a spouse has under the law.
What are the risks to public assistance benefits for registered domestic partners?
Registering as domestic partners also has risks, especially for people with low incomes. Couples who have taken advantage of the fact that they are not counted as married couples for the purposes of public assistance programs may risk those public benefits if they register as domestic partners.
- Social Security Retirement
- One of the primary intended benefits of the domestic partnership act is the provision of some significant benefitsand protections without the loss of Social Security benefits that are derived from a prior or deceased spouse’s work history.
- The ability to receive such benefits is lost upon re-marriage.
- The current lack of recognition of domestic partnerships by the federal government results in the continuation of such benefits during a domestic partnership
- If the federal government alters its position and begins to recognize domestic partnerships, recipients who have entered domestic partnerships may lose the Retirement benefit that is based on a former or deceased spouse’s work history.
- The possibility of federal recognition of domestic partnerships must be considered before entering a domestic partnership, as termination of a domestic partnership (like divorce from a subsequent marriage) will not likely result in reinstatement of the lost benefit.
- Because one partner agrees to be jointly responsible for another partner when they register for a domestic partnership, the state may consider either partner ineligible for Medicaid because they will now count the income of the other partner. In particular, this may cause problems for opposite-sex couples who are 62 years of age or older and have chosen not to marry in order to maintain Social Security or other benefits, because their combined income or assets may make them ineligible for Medicaid.
- Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF)
- To qualify for TANF, the board of social services must determine the income of a family unit. The definition of a family unit or eligibility unit does not include a boyfriend or girlfriend of a child’s parent, even if he or she lives with the child’s parent. It does include a step-parent of the child (a person who is married to the child’s parent). The term “domestic partner” is not a part of the definition at this time. However, the administrators of the TANF program may revise the definition to include a domestic partner of the child’s parent, which would mean that the income of the domestic partner would be included for the purposes of determining eligibility. This might cause the parent and child to be deemed ineligible for TANF.
- TANF is available for children who are in the care of a relative and otherwise qualify. The Dept of Human Services has clarified that they do recognize relationships formed via domestic partnership. So the domestic partner of a grandmother would also be viewed as a qualifying relative.
- General Assistance (GA) and food stamps/SNAP
- To qualify for GA and food stamps/SNAP, the income of the family unit or eligibility unit must be determined. The definition of a family unit or eligibility unit includes a boyfriend or girlfriend of a child’s parent who lives with the recipient. A domestic partner’s income would automatically be counted as a part of the family or eligibility unit, and this might cause the recipient to be deemed ineligible for GA and food stamps/SNAP.
- Other programs
- Other public agencies and private organizations that ask for an income amount before granting benefits may also count the income of both domestic partners. These programs include Charity Care, PAAD, WIC, Head Start, NJ FamilyCare, reduced-cost and free lunch, and child care subsidies. If a couple has a concern about losing benefits from any other programs, they should check with the agency or an attorney before registering as domestic partners.
How is a domestic partnership terminated?
The grounds for terminating (ending) a domestic partnership in New Jersey are the same as those for divorce in New Jersey:
- Sexual relations with someone outside the domestic partnership
- Desertion for 12 months
- Extreme cruelty
- Separation for 18 months
- Habitual substance abuse for 12 months
- Mental illness (institutionalization for 24 months)
- Imprisonment for 18 months.
A domestic partnership automatically terminates if the couple enters a marriage or civil union with each other..
The procedure for terminating a domestic partnership in New Jersey is similar to the procedure for divorce. Termination can include issues of child custody, child support, temporary support pending the termination, palimony and division of property and debts.
Are legal partnerships from other states recognized in New Jersey?
Different states have different laws recognizing legal partnerships or unions between people other than marriage. According the an Attorney General Formal Opinion 07-03, If one enters into a domestic partnership, civil union, or reciprocal beneficiary relationship in another state, that partnership will be valid in New Jersey as long as it is valid according to the laws of the state where it was initially created, in much the same way that a marriage that is entered into in a legally valid manner in another state is held to be valid in New Jersey. That opinion states that a legal same-sex marriage from another jurisdiction (such as Canada or Massachusetts) will be recognized as a civil union.
An earlier version of this article appeared in the September 2005 edition of Looking Out for Your Legal Rights®.