On January 12, 2004, Governor James McGreevey signed into law the Domestic Partnership Act (“DPA”), joining four other states that now recognize some form of domestic partnership. The general purpose of the act is to make available certain health and pension benefits to dependent domestic partners.
In order for two individuals to qualify as a domestic partnership under the DPA, the parties of the same sex (or two parties at least 62 years of age or older and not of the same sex) must file an affidavit of domestic partnership with their local registrar upon payment of a fee. To establish a domestic partnership, both parties must share a common residence, be responsible for each other’s common welfare as evidenced by joint financial arrangements or joint ownership of real or personal property, and be willing to be responsible for each other’s living expenses.
The DPA provides qualifying domestic partners with certain rights and responsibilities including statutory protection through the Law Against Discrimination against various forms of discrimination based on domestic partnership status, including employment, housing and credit discrimination. Domestic partners would have visitation rights for a hospitalized domestic partner and the right to make medical or legal decisions for an incapacitated partner. There also is an additional personal exemption under the New Jersey Gross Income Tax Act and an exemption from the New Jersey inheritance tax on the same basis as a spouse.
The DPA also provides certain benefits for state and other public employees. The Act requires eligibility for dependent coverage under the state health benefits program and under the state administered retirement system. Private sector employers will have the option to provide health benefits to domestic partners under the DPA. The DPA states clearly that employers cannot be required to provide coverage for domestic partners.
It is important to highlight that the New Jersey intestate law has not been changed to add a domestic partner as an eligible beneficiary. In addition, a domestic partner will not be entitled to receive an elective share from the deceased domestic partner’s estate as a result of receiving less than one-third of the domestic partner’s estate. Domestic partners also will not qualify as a spouse for New Jersey estate tax purposes, which means bequests to domestic partners could result in a New Jersey estate tax liability.
The DPA has an effective date 180 days following its enactment, or July 10, 2004. We can expect more information to become available as to the application and procedure of the DPA in the coming months.
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