Illinois Civil Union Act
On Jan. 31, 2011, the Illinois Civil Union Act was signed by Governor Pat Quinn after having passed the Illinois House of Representatives on Nov. 30, 2010, and the Illinois Senate on Dec. 1, 2010. The act became effective on June 1, 2011. The Illinois Civil Union Act establishes civil unions. A civil union is a legal relationship between two people — either different-sex or same-sex — providing all of the legal obligations, responsibilities, protections and benefits that the laws of the state of Illinois grant to legally married couples.
Even with the Illinois Marriage Fairness Act being enacted in 2013, the Illinois Civil Union Act remains a valid law and couples are still able to enter into a civil union instead of a marriage. Due to the existence of both laws, gay and lesbian couples may be more confused than ever about what rights they actually have and what entering into a civil union could mean for their families.
A civil union is not a marriage and therefore does not provide legal obligations, responsibilities, protections or benefits under federal law. Couples who enter into an Illinois Civil Union are afforded state rights, not federal rights. In addition, a significant number of states have reciprocity in their state law such that an Illinois Civil Union will be recognized by certain other states as a civil union, although not by all states.
With a long history of assisting those in the community in establishing the necessary protections to ensure their equal treatment under the law, the attorneys at Jill M. Metz & Associates are especially equipped to help LGBTQ couples navigate the path of their current legal rights.
Entering Into a Civil Union
Any couple who has entered into a civil union or other similarly legal relationship in another state or country before June 1, 2011, will now have their legal relationship recognized as a civil union in the state of Illinois. This means that they do not need to follow the above steps. They simply need to be able to provide a copy of their certificate of civil union from that other state or country when requested by someone in Illinois. [Note: If you have entered into a marriage in another state or country, then your marriage is recognized as a marriage in the state of Illinois.]
Lesbian and gay couples who have registered with an Illinois county, city or employer as domestic partners do NOT have a civil union. They can only have a civil union if it has been created through the state of Illinois or through the procedure set forth in the statutes of another state or country. Being registered with a county, city or employer does not afford them the benefits and protections under the new Illinois Civil Union Act.
If you have an Illinois Civil Union and wish to now be married under the Illinois Marriage Fairness Act, then you and your civil union spouse must go together to your local county clerk and fill out the form converting your civil union into a marriage. Illinois Civil Unions are still valid and are NOT automatically converted into a marriage.
Rights and Protections Under a Civil Union
Couples who enter into an Illinois Civil Union have every obligation, responsibility, protection and benefit provided by Illinois law to legally married couples. Though the list below is not exhaustive, it does provide some of these rights and duties:
- The ability to own property jointly, including the presumption that property obtained by either partner during the union, including income, is owned jointly
- Duties of joint financial support and liability for family debts arising during the union
- Legal presumption that both partners are parents of children born during the union
- Automatic rights of hospital visitation with your civil union spouse
- Right to inherit from your civil union spouse in the absence of a will
- Equal treatment as civil union spouses under certain state insurance laws
- The right to court-supervised distribution of property if you and your civil union spouse break up, including the rights to maintenance (formerly known as alimony)
Changes to Parental Rights
Even though civil union spouses are both presumed to be parents from birth of children born during the union, to ensure that both the biological parent and the nonbiological parent have the same legally enforceable parental rights in any other state or country where he or she may visit or move, the nonbiological parent should still complete a second parent adoption of the child born during the union. The co-parent adoption or second parent adoption is the only way to be certain that both parents' legal relationships are recognized, not only in Illinois, but also by the federal government, and outside of the state of Illinois when you are traveling or if you move.
The protections offered to you by entering into a civil union, such as a state pension and inheritance protections, may benefit your children. However, federal pension and Social Security death and disability benefits will not apply since federal law does not apply to your civil union.
Jill M. Metz & Associates has more than 35 years of experience in serving the estate planning needs of Illinois' LGBTQ community. The Illinois Civil Union Act, which grants many benefits to civil union spouses, does not solve all the problems that are addressed by the new Illinois Power of Attorney Act, which became effective on July 1, 2011. Hence, it is important for all couples, whether or not they are in a civil union, to execute powers of attorney for health care and for property.
Estate planning continues to be an important way for same-sex couples to ensure that their civil union spouses have access to their property and records and the ability to act for each other in a crisis.
Establishing durable powers of attorney for health care and for property are still important estate planning tools to assure that your wishes are followed in the event you are unable to make decisions for yourself. Because civil union couples will not enjoy the tax benefits provided under federal law, careful planning with regard to wills and trusts is necessary to ensure the best protection for your estate and beneficiaries.
Dissolving a Civil Union
The dissolution of a civil union in Illinois happens under the same laws applicable to the dissolution of a marriage. This means that the courts are available to resolve disputes about division of property, maintenance, child custody and visitation, child support, and other issues that commonly arise.
If you entered into a civil union or other similarly legal relationship in another state or country before June 1, 2011, and also broke up before June 1, 2011, but were unable to legally dissolve your civil union or other similarly legal relationship formed in another state or country, then you are still unionized. You should take steps to dissolve your legal relationship, which will be recognized as a civil union in Illinois, as soon as possible. This is true if you have an Illinois Civil Union and you no longer live in Illinois.
If the only legal relationship you have entered into is your Illinois Civil Union, you may use the Illinois court system to dissolve your union even if one or both of you no longer live in Illinois.
Contact Civil Union Lawyers in Chicago
For more information about entering into an Illinois Civil Union or dissolving one, contact the attorneys at our firm online or call 773-878-4480 today to schedule a consultation.
Serving the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Community and Friends in Chicago and Illinois.