Raising and caring for children is the most rewarding and challenging of life’s experiences. Parenting is even more challenging and can be just as rewarding when dealing with children in the context of a civil union. What rights do non-biological parents have toward the biological children of their partner? Under New Jersey’s Domestic Partnership Act, civil union couples have the same rights as heterosexual married couples to insure equality and avoid discrimination based upon sexual orientation. N.J.S.A. §37:1-31(a) insures that civil union couples have all the same benefits, protections and responsibilities under law, whether they derive from statute, administrative or court rule, public policy, common law or any other source of civil law, as are granted to spouses in a heterosexual marriage. See also N.J.S.A. §37:1-28(b)-(d). The Domestic Partnership Act takes New Jersey’s domestic laws, historically applied to heterosexual married couples, and applies them to civil union couples, including the right to adopt children. N.J.S.A. §37:1-31(c).
The best legal way to secure rights for partners in civil unions is to institute an adoption claim in Court. N.J.S.A. §9:3-43 note 2. The ideal adoption occurs when the non-biological party in a civil union either gains consent from the biological parent, or there is no biological parent contesting the adoption. Even if custody is contested, custody can still be secured for the non-biological parent when the biological parent’s rights are terminated and the non-biological parent in the civil union is found, by the court, to be the child’s “psychological parent”. Custody can accordingly be established without allowing biology or sexual orientation to influence same; civil union couples have the same rights under New Jersey law as heterosexual married couples; the child’s best interest remains the paramount consideration.