Last year, our blog discussed a proposed New Jersey Senate bill that would change the trajectory of palimony claims in the courts by requiring a signed promise of support between unmarried couples. Gov. Corzine signed the bill into law this past January. Unfortunately, this is not good news to all the unmarried people in committed relationships faced with palimony issues. The Garden State no longer recognizes the concept of “actions speak louder than the written word” when it comes to financial support and asset accumulation in non-traditional households.
The new palimony law applies whether you are gay or straight, and adds the requirement that you consult with an attorney before signing any written agreement.
Clearly, the New Jersey legislature did not agree with past palimony trend in our court system. This law was meant to overturn recent “palimony” decisions. Lawmakers seem to be determined to rein in the latitude the courts were utilizing to impose support and asset accumulation claims based on oral or implied promises.
As a general statement, palimony, involving an oral or a written promise, was first recognized by the Supreme Court in 1979. The court relied on the law of contracts, finding an oral promise enforceable where a party relies on the representation and promises of support and acts on those promises to their detriment. But in 2008, our courts seemingly loosened the proof requirements in holding that even cohabitation was not necessary to support a palimony claim, so long as there is was a marital-type relationship. This was perhaps the trigger for the legislature to step in.
So what should an unmarried couple do to create a writing to demonstrate their “intent” to maintain a martial style relationship with rights accorded to each party? A starting point is registering under the Domestic Partnership Act (DPA). The DPA was passed in New Jersey in 2004 and affords legal status to same-sex couples and to unmarried opposite-sex couples over the age of sixty-two. To get DPA protection, such couples must file a written joint Affidavit, must have a common residence and promise to be "otherwise jointly responsible for each other's common welfare." This can be demonstrated by a jointly-held mortgage, joint rental property, joint bank account, a will, life insurance policy or retirement plan designating the other as a primary beneficiary, or a jointly owned automobile. They must agree to be jointly responsible for each other's basic living expenses, neither may be in a marriage or another domestic partnership, must have chosen to share each other's lives in a committed relationship of mutual caring, and be at least 18 years old.
The rights that such couples enjoy under the DPA are a good reason to register. Domestic partners are allowed to accompany the other when being transported to a hospital or visit in the hospital, to the same extent as would a member of the immediate family. They are protected under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination in many critical areas, such as employment, public accommodations, housing, credit and contracting. Such partners are allowed to be a dependent/exemption claim for New Jersey tax purposes as well as exempt from New Jersey transfer inheritance tax on the same basis as a spouse. Transfers from a domestic partner's qualified pension, annuity or retirement plan to the surviving domestic partner is also exempted from New Jersey Transfer Inheritance Tax. State employees get health insurance coverage for their same-sex partners just as spouses under the DPA. State and public employees may also be entitled to pension benefits for their same-sex domestic partners.
The next and best way to handle this situation is through the use of a cohabitation or prenuptial agreement, where by parties spell out their rights in the event of a termination of the relationship or death.
If you have any questions about this topic, or any other family law related topics, please visit our website at www.diamondanddiamond.com, or to schedule a consultation with Richard Diamond, please contact us by phone at (973) 379-9292, or email us by clicking here.