Court Rules that Irreconcilable Differences Cause of Action Available to Same-Sex Couples Dissolving Civil Union
By Snyder & Sarno on January 28, 2015
In New Jersey, as in many other states, same-sex civil unions and marriages are relatively new concepts. New Jersey enacted a civil union statute in 2007, while same-sex marriage became legal in 2013. Although the civil union statute states that all procedures and rights in the dissolution of a civil union are the same as that in a divorce of heterosexual couples, there is one distinct difference, which was recently the subject of trial court case: Groh v. Groh.
In Groh, a lesbian couple had entered into a civil union but wished to dissolve that union. The issue, however, was that under the civil union statute, there was no provision for dissolution of the union based on irreconcilable differences, as there is for a heterosexual couple obtaining a divorce. Rather, a civil union could only be dissolved on the bases of: voluntary sexual intercourse with someone outside of the civil union, desertion, extreme cruelty, separation, voluntary drug addiction, institutionalization, or imprisonment.
The trial judge held that a cause of action based on irreconcilable differences should apply to civil unions. The judge relied on the case of Lewis v. Harris, 188 N.J. 418 (2006), which said that those in civil unions should have all of the same legal benefits given to those in a marriage. In addition, the judge stated that allowing civil unions to be dissolved based on irreconcilable differences has strong support in policy—it often makes dissolution easier and quicker
Moreover, the judge pointed out that when the civil union statute was written, the divorce statute did not even contain a cause of action based on irreconcilable differences, which could explain that same cause of action being left out of the civil union statute. The judge reasoned that the legislature may have inadvertently neglected to amend the civil union statute when irreconcilable differences was added to divorce statute, but nevertheless intended it to apply. In fact, there was evidence showing that the governor who signed the bill adding irreconcilable differences as a cause of action believed that law would apply equally to civil unions.
While many lawyers relied on irreconcilable differences as a cause of action in dissolutions of civil unions, this case clears up any confusion. In addition, though civil unions are in decline now that same-sex marriage is legal, this case will still likely be relevant for those who are currently in civil unions and may in the future want to dissolve that union. If you are seeking dissolution of your civil union, the experienced attorneys at Snyder & Sarno, LLC can help you with your case. Call us today at (973) 274-5200.
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