Illinois Lawyer Referrals and Legal Guidance
Illinois Civil Unions and Divorce
In 2011, Illinois’ civil union law went into effect. The written law itself is relatively short because it basically says that individuals in a civil union have the same obligations, responsibilities, protections and benefits that spouses have in Illinois. Any Illinois law that uses the term “spouse” will also apply to parties to a civil union. Federal law does not recognize civil unions.
The section of the law on dissolving an Illinois civil union simply points to existing divorce law. So the process is pretty much the same, whether you are ending a marriage or a civil union.
If you want to end a civil union, you have to meet these initial requirements:
- You must have lived “separate and apart” for a certain amount of time (although this often can be waived if both sides agree);
- You must show that irreconcilable differences have caused an irretrievable breakdown of the union; and
- You must show that you have been unable to reconcile and future attempts of reconciliation would be impractical and not in the best interests of the family.
These requirements are for a “no-fault” divorce, which is the most common. You can also file for dissolution based on fault, in which case you then have to prove specific grounds for the dissolution, such as mental cruelty.
One difference to note: In order to dissolve a marriage, there is a residency requirement, which says at least one spouse must have lived here for 90 days. The residency requirement does not apply to civil unions performed in Illinois, even if neither person lives in Illinois.
The first step in dissolving a civil union is filing a petition for dissolution with the court in the county where you (or your partner) live, or where the civil union was established. The other person will then have a certain amount of time to file a response. The procedure after that largely depends on how complicated things get.
If both parties agree on how to divide property, then they can sign an agreement. If not, the judge will decide. Points of contention often involve ownership of the family home, entitlement to retirement plans, and property that was owned prior to the civil union (“non-marital property”). Spousal support payments may be appropriate as well, depending on things such as whether one person has been financially dependent on the other (while caring for children, for example).
Another difference to note: Tax consequences are often a big part of negotiating spousal support and property division. For couples in a civil union, the federal tax benefits will not be available. For example, taxes might be owed on property transfers, and there may be no tax deduction for support that is paid.
If the couple has children (and both have parental rights), then custody, visitation and child support will be determined, as well. Again, if both people agree on everything, it can go more smoothly. If things are contested, then a judge will make decisions on custody, where a child will live, and how much visitation will be awarded. The judge makes these decisions based on the best interests of the child (or children).
It’s certainly a good idea to talk to a divorce attorney if you are thinking about ending a civil union. Once a dissolution is finalized, there will be a court order. It’s not easy to go back and change things if you’re not happy with the outcome.
Although the laws on ending a civil union mirror those of ending a marriage, we know attorneys who have specific experience in civil union law. If you have any questions or need a referral, don’t hesitate to contact us.
Since 2001, findgreatlawyers.com has been the leading resource for people who are looking for help with Illinois legal problems including family law. We are attorneys who will talk to you for free, answer your questions and recommend an independent law firm that we feel is right for you. The attorneys we recommend have a track record of success and are leaders in their field. If you would like a referral, or if you just have some questions, please contact us at any time. It’s completely free and confidential.