Judge Grants No-Fault Divorce to Same-Sex Couple in Civil Union
Are “irreconcilable differences” grounds for divorce in a New Jersey civil union?
A New Jersey trial court judge has ruled that a same-sex couple seeking to dissolve their civil union in a no-fault divorce may do so. Married couples have this right but, until now, it was not clear whether it was also available to gay couples in a civil union.
“Irreconcilable differences” are not expressly mentioned as grounds for terminating a civil union in New Jersey’s civil union statute. Still, in Groh v. Groh, the court permitted a lesbian couple to use this as a basis for ending their legal relationship.
A New Jersey Supreme Court 2006 decision, Lewis v. Harris, held that same-sex couples have the same rights, benefits and responsibilities as married heterosexual couples. In heterosexual marriages, the parties can divorce by claiming “irreconcilable differences” causing the breakdown of the marriage and leading to “no reasonable prospect for reconciliation.”
New Jersey’s statute permitting civil unions became law in the wake of that decision. The court in Groh decided that, though the legislature didn’t expressly mention “irreconcilable differences,” it meant to make the grounds for dissolving a civil union the same as for dissolving a marriage.
The statute currently includes seven grounds for ending a civil union. These include extreme cruelty; infidelity; desertion; drug addiction or habitual drunkenness; a separation of 18 months, whether voluntarily or because of imprisonment; and, institutionalization for mental illness.
When the statute was passed, these grounds were virtually identical to those then available to heterosexual married couples. “Irreconcilable differences” became legal for divorce by heterosexuals a few weeks later, but it was too late to include the same language in the civil union statute.
New Jersey’s marriage statute also says that any law referring to marriage also includes civil unions. The failure to provide expressly for “no-fault” divorces by gay couples in civil unions, said the court, was a drafting oversight, contrary to the legislature’s intent.
While other judges have granted dissolutions of civil unions based on irreconcilable differences, the opinion in Groh is the first to expressly permit it and discuss the rationale.
The compassionate yet effective attorneys of the Salvaggio Law Group will work to protect your interests and ensure that your marriage or civil union is dissolved in accordance with your wishes.