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New House Bill May Transform Rights of Unmarried Couples in Illinois

By Corri Fetman | April 01, 2024

Illinois, akin to numerous other states, does not recognize common law marriage, which typically grants property and support rights to unmarried cohabitants under specific circumstances. Moreover, Illinois law does not afford palimony, which is tantamount to spousal-like support for unmarried individuals, even after extended relationships. This stance was reinforced in a 1979 ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court, where a woman’s plea for equitable property and support rights from her partner of fifteen years, who was also the father of her children, was rejected. Similarly, in the 2016 case of Blumenthal v. Brewer, the court denied comparable equitable claims to a long-term same-sex partner who lacked the opportunity to marry for much of their relationship. Nevertheless, the notion that marriage is the sole avenue for conferring equitable property rights to long-term unmarried partners may soon undergo transformation.

In a move set to redefine the legal landscape for unmarried cohabitants, Illinois State Representative Daniel Didech has introduced a groundbreaking proposal: House Bill 4404, dubbed the “Uniform Cohabitants’ Economic Remedies Act.” This legislation promises to upend traditional notions surrounding property rights for couples living together without marriage.

For decades, unmarried partners in Illinois have grappled with the absence of clear legal protections. As a result, they have been forced to navigate murky waters when it comes to property ownership and asset division. With common law marriages unrecognized and “palimony” absent from legal recourse, many have found themselves in precarious positions upon separation. House Bill 4404, if passed may offer a ray of hope for unmarried cohabitants, presenting an opportunity to establish agreements regarding property rights. Whether expressed orally, in writing, or implied through actions, these agreements would provide much-needed clarity and security for couples choosing to share their lives without a marriage certificate.

A “cohabitant’s agreement” means an agreement between two people who become, are or were cohabitants. While marriage may not be a prerequisite for these rights, the bill acknowledges the contributions made by each party during the relationship. By recognizing and valuing these contributions, the legislation seeks to ensure fairness and equity in property division, regardless of marital status.

If passed, it’s evident that House Bill 4404 represents a seismic shift in the treatment of unmarried couples in Illinois. By providing a structured framework for property rights, the bill heralds a new era of legal recognition and protection for cohabiting partners. Moreover, the legislation mirrors broader societal shifts, reflecting changing attitudes towards relationships and marriage. As more couples opt for cohabitation over traditional matrimony, the law must adapt to meet the evolving needs of modern partnerships.

If this law passes, a new wave of “cohabitation” or really “anti-cohabitation” agreements may ensue as practitioners and unmarried individuals become aware of the consequences of cohabitating even while remaining unmarried. As more and more couples choose to live together without being married—the pool of people impacted by this legislation has the potential to be significant. Whatever the case may be, it is clear that a new chapter is unfolding—one that may promise greater security for those choosing to live together in love, if not in wedlock.

For more information or to learn more about your legal rights, contact Corri Fetman and Associates, Ltd. at 312-341-0900 or click the link below to schedule a consultation.

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