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Palimony and Common Law Marriage in Illinois


Alimony is money the court may order one spouse to give to the other when a marriage ends in divorce. It’s called “palimony” when the two people were living together but not married (“pal” + “alimony”). In Illinois, it’s irrelevant. Illinois law does not recognize palimony. If you break up with your boyfriend or girlfriend, there isn’t a legal process for seeking financial support. Divorce laws simply do not apply.

Divorce laws also won’t apply to dividing up property between two people living together. The general rule is that your property is your property. If you have property that you own jointly with your significant other, then you’ll have to come to an agreement about how to split it up, or you can file a lawsuit. If one person’s name is on the property (real estate, car title), the assumption is that it’s theirs.

If, on the other hand, you had an agreement about financial support and property division, and you can prove it, you may be in luck. If there is a dispute about what was agreed upon, you could file a lawsuit. Your case would be based in contract law rather than divorce law.

For those who are planning ahead, you might want to consider having a contract with your live-in partner. These are called “living together” contracts, cohabitation contracts or non-marital agreements. There are attorneys who help couples establish and draft these agreements. They basically determine who gets what in case there is a split down the road, what happens if one person dies, etc. You can also include wills, powers of attorney and other legal documents in your plan. These are available regardless of marriage.

In Illinois, divorce laws apply to civil unions in the same way they apply to marriages. If you are dissolving a civil union, you can file for divorce and the court will hear the issues of spousal support and property division.

Child support can be ordered by the court regardless of whether a couple was married or joined in a civil union.

Common law marriage

Illinois outlawed common law marriage in 1905. There are some states that still recognize common law marriage. In those states, you can be considered legally married if you meet certain criteria, such as living together for a certain period of time, even if you don’t have a marriage license or ceremony. A couple living together in Illinois does not have the same rights as a married couple, no matter how long they live together.

Similarly, if you don’t have a valid marriage or civil union, you cannot turn to divorce laws for help in dissolving a relationship. If you had an agreement about dividing property or financial support after a break-up, you may have an enforceable contract. If there is a disagreement, you can file a lawsuit in order to enforce the agreement, but you cannot file for divorce. You can still file for child support if there are children from the relationship.

There is an exception. If you entered into a valid common law marriage in a state that recognizes common law marriages, then Illinois will recognize your marriage. Keep this in mind if you are getting remarried. If you had a valid common-law marriage in another state, you will need to get a divorce before getting married again, even if you have moved to a state that usually doesn’t recognize common law marriage.

If you aren’t married or joined in a civil union, you can’t get a divorce. But that doesn’t mean ending the relationship is easy. You can still benefit from the advice of an attorney. If you need a lawyer with the right experience to help you, please contact us. We will only recommend someone we would recommend to a family member or friend.