call us630-584-4800

Free Consultations

shutterstock_301508825-min.jpgCouples who are in a long-term relationship will usually choose to get married. However, there are many couples who live together, share income and expenses, have children, and enjoy the same type of relationship as a married couple without uniting together in a legal partnership. Couples may choose to do so because they do not see the need for a religious wedding ceremony, because they wish to maintain some independence, or for a variety of other reasons. A couple that wishes to remain unmarried will need to understand how this will affect their rights and responsibilities, including how matters will be handled if they choose to break up in the future. Those who are looking to protect their rights and interests may want to consult with a family law attorney to address these issues.

Rights of Partners in a Breakup or a Divorce

Some states recognize common-law marriage, and if a couple lives together for a certain amount of time, they will be considered to be legally married. However, Illinois is not one of those states, and unmarried couples will not be afforded the same rights as married spouses. This means that if an unmarried couple ends their relationship, issues may be addressed differently than they would during a married couple’s divorce.

In a breakup of an unmarried couple, partners will not have the right to the equitable distribution of property. If there are any disputes about property division, determining the rightful owner of certain assets may be difficult, and these decisions may be based on the income earned by each partner, whether assets were acquired by one partner, whether different forms of property are titled in one partner’s name, and the contributions each partner made to jointly-owned assets.

St. Charles IL divorce attorneyAcross the country, thousands of unmarried but committed couples have made the decision to move in together. This reality is undoubtedly a reflection of changing social mores, but some research suggests that couples who live together before marriage may have a greater chance of getting divorced than those who wait to live together until after their wedding.

Research on Cohabitation and Marital Satisfaction

One recent study surveyed over 1,000 married people between the ages of 18 and 34 to gain insight into the relationship between cohabitation and marital satisfaction. All participants had been married for ten years or less. Some of the survey questions included:

  • What was the dedication that each spouse had to each other?

Illinois Does Not Recognize Palimony, Shared Property Rights of Cohabitants“Palimony” is a term sometimes used after a couple has ended a long-term relationship in which they lived together without marriage. There are different definitions for palimony because it is not an official legal term but a play on words using “pal” and “alimony.” The basic definition is that it is the equivalent of spousal maintenance for cohabiting couples. Some expand that definition to include each party’s right to shared properties from the relationship. Illinois residents need to know that the state does not recognize palimony as a right between unmarried couples but that they can establish property claims by creating a cohabitation agreement.

Palimony Rulings

A 1979 Illinois Supreme Court ruling on the case of Hewitt v. Hewitt is often cited as a landmark decision that set the precedent on issues such as palimony. Since the early 1900s, Illinois has outlawed common law marriage, a practice that recognizes long-term domestic partners as effectively married. In the 1979 case, the Supreme Court found that cohabitation does not grant people the same rights to property and financial support as they would receive if they had been married. The Supreme Court was asked to reconsider this ruling in 2016 with the case of Blumenthal v. Brewer but upheld its original decision. Because of these rulings, cohabitants living in Illinois have no legal claim to palimony because it would give them the same benefits as spousal maintenance.

Cohabitation Agreements

How do you protect yourself financially in Illinois in the event that you break up with your partner who you have been living with? One way is to cosign when purchasing major properties such as a home, which gives you shared ownership of the property. Another way is to create a cohabitation agreement, which is similar to a prenuptial agreement in a marriage. In the cohabitation agreement, you can settle several issues on how to divide shared properties and expenses, including your:

Cohabitation Does Not Entitle Couple to Share of PropertySociety has become more accepting of couples who cohabitate without marriage, but laws do not yet treat them equally. Some states, including Illinois, prohibit common law marriages, in which couples act and present themselves as married but never obtain a legal union. While this may limit a couple’s rights when they are together, it also affects them when their relationship ends. Illinois laws state that couples who dissolve their marriages or civil unions are entitled to an equitable division of their shared properties. Because Illinois does not recognize common law marriages, cohabitating couples do not have the same property rights unless they created their own separation agreement.

Legal Precedent

Illinois’ Supreme Court has twice decided that cohabitating couples are not required to equitably divide their properties after their relationships end:

Kane County family law attorneysAcross the country, more and more couples are delaying marriage in favor of cohabitation arrangements. Rather than tying the knot in a formal ceremony, couples are moving in together and sharing a household. While there is some indication that this social evolution is actually decreasing the divorce rate in certain demographic groups, there are certain dangers that could impact a cohabitating couple regarding property rights and other considerations. For one Cook County couple, the dangers went unrecognized for many years, arising only once the couple got married and, subsequently, divorced.

In re Marriage of Allen

Following a marriage that lasted only seven months, a couple in Cook County cross-petitioned for divorce citing irreconcilable differences. Just as the divorce was about to go to trial, the wife filed a motion for the trial court to consider the previous 13 years of cohabitation as, essentially, part of the marriage. As the basis of her argument, the wife pointed to an Illinois Supreme Court ruling in Blumenthal v. Brewer allowing certain common-law relief for a party in a same-sex relationship prior to the law that allowed same-sex couples to marry in Illinois. The wife in Allen asked for similar common law considerations, including a portion of the property her partner had acquired during their cohabitation but before their marriage.

Back to Top