When the New Jersey Civil Union Act took effect in 2007, it established a new set of laws for same-sex couples in committed relationships to enter into a civil union. Fast forward six years later, and gay couples were afforded the right to marry in New Jersey. What happens when these individuals are unhappy and want to call it quits? The process of ending a same-sex marriage follows the same divorce process already established for heterosexual couples in New Jersey. However, what about those who entered into same-sex civil unions and never married?
The issue of the termination of same-sex civil unions is discussed in Groh v. Groh, No. FM-15-1222-13, (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. Mar. 12, 2014), a legal opinion recently approved for publication. Lacey Groh and Rachel Groh entered into a civil union in 2008. After five years, they decided their relationship was no longer working and retained counsel to dissolve their civil union. Both parties intended to employ the no-fault law regarding irreconcilable differences as the reason for their dissolution. One problem. The written law did not allow for the dissolution of civil unions on the basis of irreconcilable differences.
Initially, the law regarding dissolution of civil unions was quite specific and listed seven reasons that couples could apply to end their union. These ranged from infidelity to extreme cruelty to institutionalization and imprisonment. More than likely, irreconcilable differences did not make the list because it was not part of the divorce statute at the time.
In the Grohl case, the court recognized that the causes for divorce and dissolution are intended to mirror each other. In tangent with other applicable laws, the court came up with a decision that irreconcilable differences would also apply to dissolution of civil unions. It included references to statutes that equate marriage with civil unions.