Domestic Rights for Unmarried Couples

Over the last several decades, it has become increasingly common for people in Illinois and throughout the nation to live together in serious and long-term relationships and to have children without ever being married. Many people are perfectly happy to share their lives and raise children without ever going through the formality of a wedding. However, people who choose to do this should be aware of how this choice could affect their legal rights. 

Living together by itself does not confer any of the legal rights provided by a marriage or civil union in Illinois. Common law marriage is not recognized in Illinois. However, there are ways that couples who choose not to marry or enter a civil union can independently create some - but not all - of the same rights and privileges that come from a legal union: 

  • Couples who have not been legally united through a marriage or civil union can still define their rights through a thorough cohabitation agreement. 
  • Likewise, a cohabitation agreement can establish in advance what happens if the couple separates. 
  • Such couples can also provide for each other with mutual wills, ensuring that the surviving partner receives the property of the other. Unfortunately, unmarried couples cannot enjoy the tax benefits of marriage. 
  • Couples can execute powers of attorney and healthcare declarations to give each other rights to direct medical care and financial affairs should one of them become incapacitated. 
  • Unmarried parents have the same parental and custody rights as married parents and may solidify and define them through a custody proceeding 

With the passage of the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, marriage is an option for more people than ever before. However, partners in long-term relationships who still choose not to marry can consult an experienced Illinois family law attorney to learn how to protect their rights outside of marriage.

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