We’ve come a long way, baby. In 13 years, the landscape for marriage equality has changed dramatically in New Jersey (and in the United States). New Jersey has been one of the most progressive states in addressing the rights of same-sex couples and marriage equality.
In 2004, New Jersey’s Domestic Partnership Act came in to effect allowing same-sex couples to register as Domestic Partners. Three years later, in 2007, our State’s Civil Union Act was implemented, giving same-sex couples some of the same rights afforded to married couples. Continuing the trend, four years later, as a result of a Mercer County Superior Court ruling in the case of Garden State Equality v. Dow, same-sex couples were allowed to marry in New Jersey as of October 21, 2013.
Then, on June 26, 2015, same-sex marriage became legal across the United States as a result of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. Obergefell requires States to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and to recognize lawfully licensed, out-of- state marriages between same-sex couples. So, after decades of fighting for marriage equality, LGBT marriages have the same force and effect as opposite-sex marriages. But what about LGBT divorces? Are the rights of divorcing LGBT couples equal to divorcing opposite- sex couples in New Jersey?
Yes, legally speaking, divorcing LGBT couples are treated the same as divorcing opposite-sex couples, and the law must treat them the same. LGBT couples face the same issues in divorces that opposite-sex couples do: equitable distribution of property and debts, payment/receipt of alimony and child support, and custody of children. The same causes of action for divorce, equitable distribution scheme, and factors for determining alimony and custody apply regardless of whether a LGBT couple or an opposite-sex couple is seeking a ruling from the Court on any issues in a divorce. So, in a little over a decade, LGBT rights have been “altar-ed” in a significant way.