Spouses, Civil Union and Domestic Partnerships

As the legally recognized spouse, civil union or domestic partner of the decedent you have the number one right to control the funeral, unless someone else is named as funeral agent in the decedent's Will.

This applies to a separated spouse as well. Unless legally divorced, he or she retains the legal right to control the funeral.

A divorced spouse has no legal right to control the funeral of a deceased ex-spouse or ex-civil union or ex-domestic partner unless named funeral agent or appointed by a judge. This holds true even if there are children under the age of 18 involved. 

There is one case where the spouse or the civil union or domestic partner would NOT have the right to control. If the decedent had a temporary or permanent restraining order issued, or the surviving spouse or civil union or domestic partner is charged with the intentional killing of the decedent, they do not have the right to control. In these cases, the right to control the funeral and disposition of remains shall be granted to the next person in the next-of-kin hierarchy as established by New Jersey's right to control law.

Civil Unions

To have the right to control a civil union partner's disposition, the civil union must be licensed by the state. To qualify as a civil union under N.J. law, the union must be between two individuals of the same sex, over the age of 18 and not a party to another civil union, partnership or marriage recognized by New Jersey.

To apply for a civil union license, couples must apply in the New Jersey municipality in which either person resides. This license will be valid throughout the state. Those partners not in a licensed civil union, unless otherwise named as funeral agent or authorized by a court, have no legal right to control the funeral of the deceased partner.

Domestic Partnerships

To have the right to control a domestic partner’s disposition, the partnership must have been officially recognized by the state. To qualify as domestic partners under N.J. law, the partnership must be registered with the state and a certificate of domestic partnership must have been issued. Domestic partners can be same sex couples who are at least 18 years old and opposite sex couples who are at least 62 years old.

Out-of-State Marriages, Civil Unions and Domestic Partnerships

New Jersey will recognize marriages, civil unions and domestic partnerships that have been legally established and legally registered in another state or country. Couples are not required to obtain a new license or register their relationship in New Jersey in order to be recognized.

For more information about New Jersey marriages, licensed civil unions and registered domestic partnerships, visit www.state.nj.us/health/vital.