Does NJ have common law? What rights do unmarried couples have?
Let's not bury the lede: No, New Jersey does not recognize common-law marriages — and hasn't since Dec. 1, 1939.
That's the date when the state codified marriage as both requiring a license and being performed by a religious or otherwise authorized official.
However, certain protections are available to couples who cohabitate but never tie the knot, established for the most part when the state began to provide such safeguards for same-sex couples beginning in 2004.
That year's Domestic Partnership Act was essentially superseded as far as same-sex couples were concerned by the Civil Union Act, which went into effect in early 2007. The previous statute remains an option for unrelated, opposite-sex couples in which both partners are 62 or older.
According to a reprint of the law from the state Division of Taxation, a domestic partnership in New Jersey is defined as when the qualifying partners, who may not be related by blood "up to and including the fourth degree of consanguinity," share a common residence and joint responsibility for "common welfare" through financial arrangements or ownership of property.
While neither partner can be entered into another state-sanctioned marriage or domestic partnership, as long as both have reached the age of 62, there is no stipulation for how long they must have lived together before filing for an affidavit. This is not like other states' common-law marriages that are only recognized after a finite period of cohabitation.
Oddly, according to the state Office of Vital Statistics, parties entered into a New Jersey-sanctioned domestic partnership may reside outside the Garden State, as long as at least one provides proof of membership in a "state-administered retirement system."
Of course, as with traditional marriage, money is always a concern.
The federal Social Security Administration opined in 2018 that a New Jersey domestic partnership can be deemed a "marital relationship for the purpose of entitlement to widow's insurance benefits."
A 2019 NJ.com article said Social Security survivor benefits may also be available to any children of domestic partners up to their graduation from high school.
Ten states currently recognize common-law marriage, according to AARP: Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah, along with the District of Columbia.
Pennsylvania outlawed the practice in 2005.
Patrick Lavery is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at email@example.com
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