Common law marriage New Jersey is only recognized if it happened in a state that allows it. If you want to get married through common law in New Jersey, you’ll need to provide proof that another state validated the marriage. If the state fails to certify your common law marriage, you’ll have to seek the available alternatives to formalize your union.

This article will discuss why common law marriages in New Jersey aren’t recognized and outline the options a party can pursue to live as husband and wife formally.

Does New Jersey Allow Common Law Marriage?

New Jersey doesn’t recognize any common-law marriage within its jurisdiction after December 1939. If a couple wants recognition as common law marriage partners, it won’t happen unless they married before 1939. The parties will therefore need to try out other legal avenues to have their marriage formalized in New Jersey.

Alternatives to Common Law Marriage New Jersey

The only time that New Jersey may recognize your common law marriage is if it took place in another state that approved it. You’ll need to provide proof that you indeed got married by common law in the said state. If that’s not the case, alternatives exist to common law marriage in New Jersey, such as cohabitation agreements, domestic partnerships, or civil unions.

Below, we’ll discuss each of these alternatives in detail.

– Cohabitation Agreements

If two people want to live together but remain unmarried, they’ll have to create a binding contract known as a cohabitation agreement that states each party’s rights and duties. A cohabitation agreement in New Jersey helps outline how cohabiting partners relate. Each party may state their wishes about personal or joint property in the wake of death or separation.

A cohabitation agreement is an excellent alternative to common law marriage since the cohabiting couple will not have to get married formally before moving in. It’s useful for partners who want to live together but not marry. However, they’ll need to decide how to care for each other and their children, if any.

What are the common issues when creating a cohabitation agreement? Below, we’ll outline some factors to remember when entering a cohabitation agreement in New Jersey.

Property Ownership Rights

If a cohabiting couple owns or seeks to own joint property, they must state clear guidelines about this issue in their contract. They must factor in all the legal rights related to personal and joint property. In New Jersey, a cohabiting couple may decide to own property as tenants in common and have each party claim 50% of the interest.

If unmarried partners decide to buy a home and contribute a mortgage equally, they must state how to dispose of the house if they break up. Regarding joint property, a cohabiting couple can name themselves joint tenants with a right of survivorship, allowing inheritance without a will. The cohabitation agreement must also outline how the couple will treat the personal and shared property, including:

  • Savings and investments
  • Bank accounts
  • Retirement benefits
  • Cars
  • Gifts
  • Household items
  • Health insurance.

Moreover, family law recommends that the couple creates a contract that covers additional details of their relationship, including:

  • What interest does someone have in their partner’s property and income.
  • How to handle financial and joint accounts during the relationship.
  • How to divide assets and debt in the wake of a breakup.
  • Whether to support each other after separation.

A cohabitation agreement helps outline the property rights of the cohabitants. This happens during and after their relationship.

Paternity and Parenting

When choosing to cohabit, a party may come with children into the relationship. They may also sire some during the time of union. The cohabitation agreement must state the responsibility of each party to the children in the relationship (whether adopted or biological). Like other forms of marriage, New Jersey applies similar custody rights to cohabiting parents.

This means they’ll need to craft an agreement that outlines child support and visitation rights. Another thing to note about cohabiting couples is that paternity isn’t presumed (they must prove it legally). The law requires the father to sign the child’s birth certificate during birth. Parents also have the choice to agree to paternity mutually without consulting an attorney that has experience in different practice areas.

In situations where a partner isn’t biologically related to a child in the relationship, they’ll not have a direct parental relationship unless they agree to adopt the child legally. This helps avoid any domestic violence in the relationship.

Estate Planning

As cohabitants, you must also agree on what happens in the wake of life events like sickness, disability, or death. Because your relationship is non-marital, you must have some key documents to help make it legal. These documents include:

  • Will. A will allows you to state the parties that shall inherit your assets, such as children or blood relatives. It also enables you to name your children’s guardian (s) if you die.
  • Durable Power of Attorney. This document allows you to access your partner’s financial accounts if they die. It also allows you to take care of your partner’s bills if they become incapacitated.
  • Beneficiary Designation. This document allows you to name the beneficiaries of your assets, insurance policies, and retirement accounts. Your property won’t need to undergo probate before being passed to heirs.
  • Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. This document gives your cohabiting partner the right to make health care decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated.

If you plan to cohabit as an unmarried couple and are unfamiliar with all the legal aspects, you should consider visiting an experienced family law attorney in New Jersey today.

– Domestic Partnership

A domestic partnership is another alternative to common law marriage in New Jersey. It comes with various benefits, including the following:

  • Domestic partners can make healthcare decisions for each other.
  • The visitation rights (mostly accorded to someone’s immediate family) also extended to domestic partners.
  • You are entitled to their life insurance proceeds or workers’ compensation benefits if a domestic partner dies.
  • Domestic partners can inherit each other’s property when one dies.
  • The laws give people the right to funeral arrangements for their demised domestic partner.
  • Domestic couples can draft mutual obligations through a signed contract.

If you decide to live as domestic partners, you shouldn’t hesitate since it may offer several benefits.

During domestic partnership in New Jersey, two unmarried partners choose to live together and enjoy the legal benefits of married couples. Originally, the Domestic Partnership Act (DPA) of 2004 only allowed heterosexual couples over 62 years and homosexual couples over 18 years to live as domestic partners.

Three years later (February 2007), the New Jersey Civil Union Act amended the DPA to make domestic partnerships available to only couples above 62 years (whether heterosexuals or homosexuals). However, there’s an exemption for those heterosexual couples that lived as domestic partners before February 2007 or those who got engaged as domestic partners outside the state.

Parties living as domestic partners (especially seniors) enjoy financial benefits if their status is legally recognized.

Requirements for Domestic Partnership in New Jersey

According to New Jersey laws, a couple qualifies for domestic partnership if:

  • Both have more than 62 years.
  • They have no blood relationship.
  • They have a common residence in New Jersey.
  • Neither party was in another domestic partnership within the last 180 days.
  • Neither party is in a civil union or married to someone else.
  • The partners are in a mutual and committed relationship.
  • The partners have joint responsibility for each other’s well-being.

Note: To register a domestic partnership in New Jersey, the applicants need to file an Affidavit of Domestic Partnership at the office of a Local Registrar of Vital Statistics.

– Civil Union as an Alternative to Common Law Marriage New Jersey

In New Jersey, a civil union is a lawfully recognized union between two people of the same sex. Couples under a civil union enjoy the same benefits as married couples and are subject to some legal responsibilities. A civil union is not marriage since it entails individuals of the same sex. The legislature in New Jersey has reserved the “marriage status” for different-sex couples.

A party is eligible to enter a civil union if:

  • They are of the same sex.
  • They have at least 18 years or have fulfilled the requirements for an exception.
  • Neither of them is a party to a domestic partnership or another civil union.
  • They have no blood ties, i.e., cousins, siblings, nephews, or nieces.

Suppose a same-sex couple fulfills the above requirements but is formally engaged as domestic partners. In that case, the law allows them to enter the civil union without ending their domestic partnership first (it automatically terminates).

How to Formally Enter a Civil Union in New Jersey

To enter a civil union in New Jersey, you’ll first need to seek a license from a registrar or clerk in your municipality of residence. You must be physically present at the licensing office before receiving the license. Some requirements include documents showing your full names, social security numbers, and forms indicating your county of birth.

Before visiting the licensing office, you should first make a call to confirm the exact location and the complete list of documents required, i.e., driver’s license, passport, or birth certificates. Although the fee required is $28, you must also call to confirm if that has changed. After applying for the license, you’ll need to wait for at least 72 hours before having it issued.

The clerk will guide you on the applicable procedures if you need the license earlier than the waiting period. However, after the waiting period has elapsed, you’ll have 30 days to organize a ceremony for your union. During the ceremony, you’ll need to provide two witnesses (above 18 years) to sign the civil union certificate.

Conclusion

In this article, you’ve learned that common law marriage in New Jersey isn’t recognized, and in summary, you’ve noted that:

  • You’ll need proof from another state to validate your common law marriage in New Jersey.
  • Common law marriage in New Jersey was valid until December 1939, when it was outlawed.
  • The main alternatives to common law marriages in New Jersey are cohabitation agreements, domestic partnerships, and civil unions.
  • A civil union applies to couples of the same sex and above 18 years.
  • Unmarried couples that choose to live as domestic partners in New Jersey enjoy similar benefits as married couples.

If you want to use a cohabitation agreement as an alternative to common law marriage in New Jersey, ensure each party indicates what they bring into the relationship. You must also agree on paternity and parenting if you have or plan to have children. To have a civil union as an alternative to common law marriage in New Jersey, ensure that neither you isn’t a member of a domestic partnership nor another civil union.

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