How will Overturning DOMA Affect New Jersey Civil Unions and Dissolutions?

When the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, it sent legal professionals in a wide range of fields into crunch mode to figure out how the ruling will affect their clients. New Jersey will be the testing ground for one of the issues stemming from the now-overturned federal law. And it could have implications for the future of divorce and dissolution disputes among same-sex couples in New Jersey.

The Superior Court in Trenton will hear a two-year-old case in which six couples allege the state’s law that allows civil unions for gay couples doesn’t provide the same legal protections as married couples now that DOMA has been deemed unconstitutional.

According to nj.com:

“The hearing brings the spotlight on gay marriage back to New Jersey, where the legal battle over the issue has been waged since 2002 — before any state recognized same-sex marriage.”

Last year, Chris Christie vetoed a bill legalizing gay marriage in New Jersey. Now, the state is arguing same-sex couples with civil unions could still be granted the same rights by the federal government, even if they’re not technically married.

The lawsuit only applies to New Jersey — and is likely going to be appealed to a higher court no matter decision is reached — but advocates on both sides of the debate are watching closely to see how the state law will intersect with the new federal rules.

Divorce vs. dissolution in New Jersey

The case raises interesting issues for same-sex couples looking to split in New Jersey.

Here’s why: People in civil unions do not get divorced. Instead, they file for dissolutions, which is much more complicated and less legally established.

In short, advocates allege that just like with marriage, same sex couples don’t have the same rights when they want to get divorced, either.

Dividing assets among same-sex couples often bring attorneys and their clients into uncharted legal territory. The fact that the federal government doesn’t recognize civil unions made the process even more complicated, according to a 2009 nj.com article.

But overturning DOMA hasn’t made things more clear for same-sex couples in New Jersey. If the state wins and civil unions continue, couples will have to contend with two different set of rights and rules — one from the federal government and one from New Jersey.

If the court ultimately rules that civil unions are not equal to marriage, same-sex couples in New Jersey will have to consider transitioning from civil unions to marriages, something other states that have recently considered legalizing gay marriage are struggling with.

Whatever the outcome, it’s clear this case will have a big impact on same-sex marriage — and same-sex divorce or dissolution — for New Jersey residents.

If you are thinking about filing for divorce in New Jersey

I invite you to contact the legal team at Maselli Warren for a free consultation. They will meet with you and be able to explain the process and answer any additional questions that you may have.