Understanding the Legal Rights of Unmarried Couples in New Jersey
In New Jersey, as in many other states, the legal rights of unmarried couples differ significantly from those of their married counterparts. Unmarried couples, whether heterosexual or same-sex, face unique legal challenges when it comes to matters such as property rights, inheritance, and decision-making authority in the event of a partner's incapacity or death. This article aims to shed light on the rights and protections available to unmarried couples in the Garden State.
Property Rights and Co-ownership
Unmarried couples in New Jersey do not have the same automatic rights to property division as married couples do under matrimonial law. When an unmarried couple purchases property together, they should consider holding title as joint tenants with the right of survivorship or as tenants in common. The former allows for the surviving partner to automatically inherit the other's share of the property upon their death, while the latter does not.
However, issues arise when property is held in only one partner's name. In such cases, the non-titled partner may have difficulty claiming any ownership interest unless they can prove financial contribution or a written agreement that evidences an intention to share ownership.
Without a will, unmarried partners do not have a right to inherit from each other under New Jersey's intestacy laws. It is crucial for unmarried couples to execute wills or estate plans if they wish for their partner to inherit their assets. Additionally, naming a partner as a beneficiary on retirement accounts and life insurance policies can ensure that assets are transferred directly to them without going through probate.
Healthcare Decisions and Hospital Visitation
Married individuals are often given priority when it comes to making healthcare decisions for an incapacitated spouse. Unmarried partners do not have this automatic right in New Jersey; however, they can grant each other these powers through a durable power of attorney for healthcare or an advanced healthcare directive. Hospital visitation rights can also be restricted for unmarried partners if no legal documentation is provided.
Parental Rights and Child Support
Unmarried parents have the same obligations to support their children as married parents do. However, establishing paternity can be more complex for unmarried fathers. Legal paternity must be established either by signing a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity or through court action in order for fathers to secure custody and visitation rights.
In case of separation, both parents are entitled to seek child support from the other. Child support obligations are determined by New Jersey's Child Support Guidelines, which calculate support based on income and time spent with the child.
Domestic Partnership and Civil Union Laws
In 2004, New Jersey enacted a domestic partnership law providing certain rights to same-sex and opposite-sex couples over age 62 who live together and share a domestic life. The law extends specific benefits such as hospital visitation rights and exemption from inheritance tax on transfers between partners.
In 2007, New Jersey also introduced civil unions, granting same-sex couples rights comparable to marriage under state law. Although same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide in 2015, civil unions still exist as an option for couples who choose them over marriage.
To protect their interests, unmarried couples in New Jersey should be proactive in creating legal documents that reflect their wishes regarding property, healthcare decisions, and inheritance. Consulting with a family law attorney can help navigate these complex issues and ensure that both partners' rights are safeguarded.