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Weaknesses prevail in Illinois domestic partnership laws

Photo of Karen Lavin

While Illinois has made some important gains in the rights of same-sex couples in recent years, the law is still not as even-handed as one might hope. For same-sex couples who were are living in a domestic partnership and were not allowed to participate in legal marriage until recently, Illinois state law has left them shouldering a burden simply for choosing to be together before the law recognized them.

Since 1979, Illinois has held that domestic partnerships do not grant their partners the same rights of property division as their married counterparts when it comes to ending the relationship. In a recent 5-2 decision, the state's supreme court refused to reconsider this case law, claiming in its majority opinion that the underlying principles of the issue remained unchanged, even in light of recent advancements for same-sex couples. That is to say, that the law was, and for the time being, is still meant to discourage couples from flouting the state's abolishment of common law marriage.

For many same-sex couples who have been living in a practical marriage because the state did not allow until recently for them to obtain legal marriage, this leaves them in a tough position of being punished for being ahead of their time. This is painfully illustrated by the high-profile case between two women who had lived as a couple and even raised children together for more than 20 years, only to end their relationship and be denied fair division of property because they had never been legally married.

If you have been living in a domestic partnership, it is important to obtain informed, accurate counsel when it comes to how you are and are not protected under Illinois law. Even if you don't foresee any specific legal issues in your immediate future, it is wise to know the full extent of your rights before you need them. With the assistance of an experienced attorney, you can can explore your options with confidence.

Source: Cook County Record, "IL Supreme Court declines to reconsider decision on umarried couples' property rights," Dan Churney, Oct. 26, 2016

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