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Major Ruling from the Illinois Supreme Court on Unmarried Couples and Property Division

Not more than one a week ago, the Illinois Supreme Court published a case on unmarried couples and property division in the wake of a breakup. Although the Supreme Court ruled on this very topic in 1979, the reasoning behind that ruling was, shall we say, less-than-tactful by today's standards.

The case before the Illinois Supreme Court involved a Cook County judge and her long-term partner, a successful gynecologist with her own practice. They parties moved in together in 1981 and raised three children. However, like many couples their relationship changed and they separated.

During the duration of the relationship the option of marriage or civil unions was not avalible to these two women. The parties separated in 2008, the state of Illinois began offering civil unions in 2011, and same-sex marriage in 2014. Traditionally, when a couple separates they would split assets proceed through the dissolution process. In this case, the dissolution process was not avalible to them and when one of the partners wished to be awarded an ownership interest her former partner's business the parties were forced to use traditional legal channels to address the disagreement. Ultimately, the Cook County judge sued and requesting an ownership stake of her former partner's medical practice.

The case it was adjudicated all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court, - with the Court rejecting the request, stating that Illinois refuses "to grant benefits and protections ... to those who do not participate in the institution of marriage."

This ruling has sparked outrage among the gay rights community, as well as the community of unmarried couples. While the couple in this case are same-sex women and of affluent means, the ruling in this case affects all unmarried couples, the majority of which are straight and may have no joint assets beyond a shared residence.

It raises an interesting question: should long-standing unmarried couples have the ability to claim a stake in pieces of property that would be granted under marriage? For the time being, the answer is "no." It is inevitable we will be hearing more about this topic in the coming years as more and more couples decide to share their lives, but not marry. The policy finding a long-standing unmarried couples has no the ability to claim a stake in property that would be granted under marriage stands for now, but for how long?

Source: Chicago Tribune, "Illinois Supreme Court rejects property division for unmarried couples," Robert McCoppin, August 20, 2016

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