I am pleased to write that same-sex and opposite-sex couples will soon be able to enter into civil unions in Illinois. On December 1, 2010, the Illinois Legislature passed The Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act. Governor Quinn is expected to sign the bill this month and it will become effective in June 2011. The bill provides that civil unions will have all of the same legal rights and duties that Illinois law grants to marriage. The term “spouse” in any state law will apply to parties to a civil union as well as to married couples.
Rights that individuals to a civil union will now have include: hospital visitation, making medical decisions when spouse is unable, receiving state benefits as a surviving spouse, claims against third parties for wrongful death of a spouse, spousal rights in probate, claiming spousal privilege if asked to testify against one’s spouse, and the same rights in a divorce as married couples. Parties to a civil union will dissolve their union or divorce in the same way that married couples divorce. This means that the potential right to maintenance (“alimony”) and the right to an equitable distribution of marital property will apply to civil union couples. Thus, couples to a civil union may benefit from a premarital (“prenuptial”) agreement just like married couples.
As this is a state law, the federal legal rights and duties of marriage will not be granted to civil unions. The following federal rights will not apply to Illinois civil unions: filing joint tax returns, collecting federal benefits (social security, veterans’ benefits), immigration rights, and legal recognition of the union by other states. So an Illinois civil union may not be legally recognized in a state that does not have a civil union law. Couples may come to Illinois to enter into a civil union as long as their state of residence does not prohibit civil unions.
If you are considering entering into a civil union, I encourage you to consult a family law attorney to see how the law may legally impact you. You may benefit from an agreement prior to the civil union that addresses how property would be divided in the event of a divorce as well as whether maintenance (“alimony”) will be paid. You may also want to update your will or estate plan if you enter into a civil union. I am pleased to represent people considering civil union. If you have questions about civil unions in Illinois, call me.