Illinois law makers have passed a new law that allows unmarried couples to enter into a civil union that gives them the same rights and obligations they would have if they were married.
Going into effect on June 1, 2011, the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act allows two persons, either of the same or opposite sex, to enter into a civil union and enjoy the same benefits that Illinois affords to married couples.
Speaking out on this remarkable new law, Cook and DuPage County lawyers, J. Richard Kulerski and Kari L. Cornelison, note this law is significant because it is the first of its kind in the United States to allow opposite sex couples, who opt not to marry, the same rights as married spouses. Now, an opposite sex partner receiving social security benefits through a former spouse’s employment may now keep this entitlement and still enjoy all of the benefits as a party to a civil union.
Although many of the benefits are the same, federal law does not allow those participating in a civil union to file joint tax returns, nor can either party receive the other’s employee, pension or social security benefits. They are also not protected under immigration laws.
The new law does however, among other things, allow those participating in a civil union the right to a divorce; equitable division of property, regardless of who holds the title; inheritance; the presumption of parentage; health care benefits, when permitted under federal law, and health care decision making.
Similar to marriage, civil unions require a license and a ceremony certified or performed by the same officials currently licensed to perform marriage ceremonies. Rather than referring to the participating parties as spouses, for legal purposes the new law refers to the individuals as parties to a civil union.
Should parties to a civil union seek divorce, they are entitled to the same rights as married spouses under current Illinois Divorce law. Locally, they must follow the identical Illinois and Cook and DuPage Counties divorce rules by filing a Proceeding for Dissolution of a Civil Union. Upon completion of all proceedings a Judgment for Dissolution of Civil Union is granted.