Civil unions are set to begin in Illinois starting July 1, 2011. Civil Unions are not just for same-sex couples, but open to all couples not related by blood. A civil union will be very similar to marriage from a dissolution stand point. The process for dissolving a civil union is very similar to dissolving a marriage. Couples dissolving a civil union can seek monetary support (like alimony or maintenance) from their civil union partner. In fact “partner” and “spouse” have the same meaning under the Civil Unions Act. The same divorce laws apply (in Illinois the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act) to civil unions. Disposition of property, debts, maintenance, child support, custody and visitation are all the same under the Civil Unions Act. Civil unions also provide many of the state rights that married people take for granted like: being able to visit a spouse in the hospital and suing for actions or wrongful death and probate law.
How are civil unions different from marriage?
The only real difference is that that civil unions are not recognized by our federal (United States) government. Marriage law is governed by the states. Most states marriage laws are similar, but every state has its own laws. The institute of marriage (between a man and woman) is recognized by the federal government. The federal government does not recognize any other type of marriage. That is a significant reason for a heterosexual (man and a woman) couples to not choose civil unions over marriage as the federal benefits of marriage will not be available to those couples and federal benefits can be significant.
The following is a non exhaustive list of federal or United States citizen’s benefits for a married couple which are not available to partners of a civil union:
• Filing a joint federal tax return
• Petitioning for your spouse to become a citizen or resident of the United States if they are foreign
• Social security benefits for spouses
• Federal pension benefits such as postal service, military or other civil service.