Civil Unions Under Illinois Law


The law regarding same-sex marriage is changing every day, both in Illinois and throughout the nation. With the U.S. Supreme Court 's recent landmark ruling in United States v. Windsor, new changes may start coming even faster. While Illinois has not yet legalized same-sex marriage - although it may in the near future - it has, in the meantime, adopted the unique institution of civil unions, which confers many of the same rights and responsibilities as marriage. Our attorneys at Downs Law Offices remain on the cutting edge of Illinois civil unions law as it develops. Whether you are considering entering into a civil union or are about to end your relationship, a civil unions lawyer from our firm can help you understand how the law affects you.


A civil union is a unique legal relationship created in Illinois by the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act. Civil unions are open to any two people who are over the age of consent, are not currently married or already in a civil union and are not within a prohibited degree of consanguinity - that is, too closely related. The law permits same-sex and opposite-sex couples to enter civil unions.

A civil union is not a marriage. Illinois still does not recognize same-sex marriage, although how long this will remain the case is uncertain. A civil union confers many - although not all - of the same rights and duties as marriage:

  • Inheritance rights
  • Rights to make health care decisions in case of incapacity
  • Rights to file joint state tax returns
  • Right to be treated as spouses for state employee benefits

The weakness of civil unions comes from the fact that they are not recognized by federal law - even after the Windsor decision. This means that civil partners in Illinois still cannot file joint federal tax returns, receive federal estate tax advantages or qualify for federal spousal benefits under Social Security.


The grounds for dissolving a civil union are the same as those for dissolution of a marriage under Illinois law. The process is also similar, including many of the same family law issues. The parties to a dissolving domestic partnership must distribute their property, decide if one partner should pay maintenance to the other and even allocate custody or visitation if the partners have custody rights to minor children. The dissolution can be accomplished through negotiation between the partners, mediation, collaborative law or, if necessary, litigation in court. Domestic partners do, however, have the option of resolving some of these issues in advance through a well-drafted domestic partnership agreement, which serves many of the same functions as a prenuptial agreement.

Our attorneys at Downs Law Offices are proud to provide domestic partners in Chicago with the legal counsel they need regarding the creation and dissolution of civil unions and are committed to staying abreast of the many changes to this area of law that are likely to occur in the near future.

Helping committed partners in Illinois know their rights

If you want to know what a civil union means for you or are contemplating dissolving a current domestic partnership, call Downs Law Offices at 312-781-1963 or contact us online to schedule a confidential consultation with one of our attorneys. Our office is centrally located and conveniently accessible by both public and private transportation.