Civil Unions

Frequently Asked Questions about Civil Union Law

1. Now that Illinois passed the Illinois Marriage Fairness Act, can I still enter into a Civil Union?

Yes. Although the Illinois Marriage Fairness Act went into effect for all couples as of June 1, 2014, the Illinois Civil Union Act is still valid law and couples may choose to enter into a civil union.

2. How do I know if we should enter into a Civil Union or get married?

A civil union does not confer federal rights or obligations upon a couple. For all couples, if you already receive federal benefits, for example, SSI or social security, you should understand how entering into a civil union or marriage will affect those benefits.

If you have pending immigration issues, you should speak with an immigration attorney about how a civil union or marriage will affect your immigration case.

We recommend that all couples speak with an attorney and an accountant or financial advisor to determine how state and federal laws affect your income taxes and your death benefits for your assets. You may decide to still enter into a civil union or marriage, but you will also know if you should be entering into a prenuptial agreement and completing your estate plan.

3. What is a Civil Union?

In Illinois, a civil union is a legal relationship between two people (of the same sex or of different sex) providing all the legal obligations, responsibilities, protections and benefits that the laws of Illinois grant to married couples. But a civil union is not a marriage; a civil union does not provide federal protections or responsibilities to couples who enter into one, and a civil union will be recognized only in certain states, not by all states.

4. What steps do I take to enter into a Civil Union with my partner?

Both parties must appear in person at the county clerk’s office to fill out an application for a license to enter into a civil union. The cost of applying for a civil union license varies by county and is usually in the range of $15 to $40. Bring with you a form of identification, such as a birth certificate, driver’s license, or passport.

If you previously have been married or in a civil union, you also should bring proof, in case the clerk asks to see it, that you are no longer married or in the prior civil union, such as a copy of your divorce or dissolution decree, or, if applicable, the death certificate of your deceased spouse or partner. If you live outside of Illinois, the clerk may ask you to sign an affidavit stating that your home state does not prohibit you from entering into a civil union.

The civil union license is valid for 60 days and is valid only in the county in which it was issued, which means that your civil union ceremony must take place within that county. There is a one-day waiting period before the license becomes effective. A court can waive this waiting period if you file a petition showing sufficient cause.

You may choose a judge, certain public officials, or a religious official to “officiate” your ceremony. Your officiant must complete the certificate confirming that your ceremony has been performed, and forward it to the county clerk within 10 days of your civil union.

A list of county clerks offices can be found here: Ordering Records

5. Do I have to enter into a Civil Union if I already married my same-sex partner in another state or country or entered into a Civil Union elsewhere?

No. If you are married then your marriage is now recognized in Illinois as a marriage. If you are in a civil union in another jurisdiction, then your civil union is recognized as a civil union in Illinois.

6. Now that we’re in a Civil Union, do we still have to perform a second parent adoption to secure our child’s parent-child relationship to the non-biological parent?

Even though civil union partners are both presumed to be parents of children born during the civil union, we still strongly encourage parents to perform adoptions in addition to drawing up wills and powers of attorney, since you may travel to other states that will not respect your civil union or the legal presumption of parentage it creates.

7. If we are registered as domestic partners with an employer, a county or a city, will our domestic partnership be recognized as a Civil Union?

No. Couples who are not in civil union or marriage and have registered with an employer, county or city for domestic partner benefits are not protected under the Civil Union Act or the Marriage Fairness Act.

8. Once my partner and I enter into a Civil Union, is there anything else we should do to protect our relationship?

In addition to executing powers of attorney, you should seek legal advice about additional precautions you may need to take. Laws regarding same-sex couples are changing rapidly and will continue to do so. Those changes may affect your legal rights in Illinois and in other states and countries where you may travel or may live in the future. We recommend that you complete your estate planning documents and a second parent adoption.

9. Can Civil Unions be dissolved?

Yes. The dissolution of a civil union in Illinois happens under the same laws applicable to the dissolution of a marriage. You will need to file a petition for dissolution of your civil union. Civil union spouses will be eligible for maintenance (like alimony) and court assistance in allocating child custody, awarding visitation and support, and dividing property on the same terms as marital spouses.

If you entered into a civil union in another state or country and now you or your spouse live in Illinois, then you can dissolve your civil union here in Illinois.

10. What if I live in another state when I want to dissolve my Illinois civil union?

By entering into an Illinois civil union, you agree that the Illinois courts have authority over your relationship. That means that you can dissolve your civil union through the Illinois court system even if one or both of you no longer live in Illinois.

Contact Chicago Family Law Attorneys

To schedule an appointment with a family law attorney, call 773-878-4480 or contact us by e-mail.