Woman sues to expand domestic partnerships

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:54

    NEW BRUNSWICK-During their 19-year relationship, Rene Price and Betty Jordan thought of themselves as married, especially after they registered as domestic partners on the last day of 2004. But after Price died unexpectedly in July, Jordan learned that she was not entitled to the couple's Perth Amboy home, their cars, or the $9,000 in Price's bank account. Price's death at age 61 exposed one of the many places where New Jersey's domestic partnership law does not treat partners like married couples: When a domestic partner without a will dies, the surviving partner has no right to his or her possessions. Jordan, 66, filed a lawsuit against the state on Friday, contending she should be entitled to take ownership of Price's estate. Though she's not the owner, Jordan has continued to live in the home and drive the car that Price owned. Lee Moore, a spokesman for the state Attorney General's Office, said he could not comment on the lawsuit because the state is a defendant in it. The effort to expand the law comes as many of New Jersey's prominent gay rights advocates are focused on another court battle they hope will give same-sex couples the right to marry in the state. The activists are critical of domestic partnerships, contending they extend too few rights. With the domestic partnership law, which took effect in July 2004, New Jersey became the fifth state to recognize same-sex couplings. It gave pairs some tax benefits, the right to visit one another in hospitals and extended some health insurance and pension benefits when one partner works for the state government. To date, more than 3,400 couples have registered. While the domestic partnership law enumerates a list of rights, it does not mention the estate issue. Jordan's lawyer, Stephen Hyland, is arguing in part that she should be allowed to keep their home and other possessions because the domestic partnership law does not specifically exclude that treatment for surviving domestic partners. For married couples without wills, the surviving spouse automatically gets the estate. Hyland said that even when someone has a will before being married, does not revise it to include his or her spouse, and then dies, there is a provision to take care of the surviving spouse. Jordan said when she and her partner took the unceremonious trip to City Hall to register, they considered it their wedding. On Valentine's Day, she would send three dozen roses to Jordan's office at the Perth Amboy Board of Education, where Jordan had a second career after retiring from the cosmetics industry. Price collapsed at a Metropolitan Transportation Authority garage on July 28 and was taken to a hospital, where she died later that day. It was not until then that Jordan realized there was no will, which could have averted the legal mess she left behind. ``I didn't think about a will,'' Jordan said. ``I always wanted to go first.''