A civil union is a legal relationship between two persons, of either the same or opposite sex established pursuant to the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act (“The Civil Union Act”) which became effective June 1, 2011.
With the passage of The Civil Union Act, Illinois officially recognized the legality and validity of civil unions for both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. The Civil Union Act affords parties to a civil union “the same legal obligations, responsibilities, protections and benefits as are afforded or recognized by the law of Illinois.” The Civil Union Act applies the same legal grounds for dissolving a civil union as are required for a dissolution of marriage under the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, but does not incorporate the provisions of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act related to property division, support and custody. These rights are presumably recognized under the Civil Union Act, however.
Conversely, federal law does not recognize the validity of civil unions. Under the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), only one man and one woman may be legally married, and a spouse must be a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or wife. As a result, same-sex couples may not enjoy the same federal benefits that their opposite-sex counterparts are entitled to. Additionally, under section 213.1 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, “a marriage between individuals of the same sex is contrary to the public policy” of the State of Illinois.
Because the Civil Union Act was only recently enacted, it remains to be seen how Illinois divorce courts will treat civil union dissolutions, especially when Illinois law now conflicts with federal law. For example, in a divorce case, when one party is obligated to pay maintenance (otherwise known as alimony) to the other, the maintenance payments are ordinarily tax deductible for the party paying and taxable to the recipient for federal income tax purposes. Because the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriage or civil unions, however, maintenance paid pursuant to dissolution of a civil union may not receive this favorable tax treatment.
The attorneys at The Law Offices of Jonathan Merel, P.C. have the requisite experience and skill to guide clients through this new and evolving area of law.