Illinois says no to the property division for cohabitants


The Supreme Court of Illinois has insisted that cohabitants still have no entitlement to a share of their partner’s property on separation.

The case concerned a local judge who was involved in a long term same sex relationship with a gynaecologist. The couple had moved in together  as long ago as 1981 and remained a couple for more than 25 years, raising three children during that time.

They had already separated by the time same sex marriage was legalised in the Midwestern state (June 1 2014).

The couple made contrasting claims over their three properties following the split. Both sought ownership of their main residence in Kenwood, an upmarket neighbourhood of Chicago. The Judge claimed she had contributed to the mortgage and also cited the fact that she had been a stay-at-home mother to the couple’s children while they were young.

In addition, she sought a share of her ex-partner’s medical practice, arguing that their relationship had been the equivalent of a marriage:  they had pooled their money and even exchanged rings

However her former partner did not see things the same way and sued her. Details of the lawsuit were sealed by the court, but the Judge later countersued. The case then made its way to the state’s Supreme Court in Springfield.

In a majority ruling, Justices there rejected the Judge’s claims, saying she had no right to her ex-partner’s property because the couple had never been married – and therefore rules relating to the division of marital property did not apply to them.

Justice Lloyd Karmeier noted that social mores had changed significantly since 1979, when the Court issued a major ruling stating that ‘common law’ or de facto marriage would not be recognised in Illinois, in order to pursue a “policy of discouraging cohabitation between unmarried parties and disfavoring nonmarital children.”

Nevertheless, said Justice Karmeier, the “core reasoning” behind the 1979 judgement remained sound, and it was unaffected by the fact that same sex couples now have the right to marry in Illinois.

“Since marriage is a legal relationship that all individuals may or may not enter into, Illinois does not act irrationally or discriminatorily in refusing to grant benefits and protections … to those who do not participate in the institution of marriage”.

An attorney for the Judge involved in the case described the result as “a devastating setback for unmarried couples” and “so far out of line with current legislative policies in Illinois and the rest of the country.”

Meanwhile, two female Justices issued a dissenting opinion, describing the majority ruling as “an oddly myopic and moralistic view of cohabitation.”

Photo of the Supreme Court of Illinois by Alanscottwalker via Wikipedia under a Creative Commons licence

Stowe Family Law Web Team

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