Why Some Couples Choose Civil Unions Over Marriage
If you want to make your partnership official you may be looking at all your options. Civil unions are recognized in a handful of states and often offer the same protections as marriage. Learn more about civil unions and how they compare to getting married here.
Civil unions are marriage-like agreements but there are some differences they share. Civil unions were created to allow same-sex couples to publicly commit to eachother without granting them perimission to marry.
Nowadays, civil unions are less relevant since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage bans were unconstitutional in 2015 (Obergefell v. Hodges). It’s important to note that there are many people who remain in civil unions or domestic partnerships despite the availability of same-sex marriage.
For these reasons, the distinctions between marriage and civil unions may still produce legal issues. Here’s a look at why some couples choose civil unions over marriage.
What is a Civil Union?
In Illinois, a civil union is a legal relationship between two people that gives them legal rights to marriage. Civil unions first became recognized in 2011, when the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act was passed. Civil unions can be entered by same-sex or opposite sex couples.
Partners who enter civil unions are granted the same protections, responsibilities and benefits that one would normally receive in a marriage. Eligibility for those wanting a civil union include the following:
- Must be 18 years of age or older.
- Cannot be related – by the half or the whole blood or by adoption; an aunt or uncle and a niece or nephew, whether the relationship is by the half or the whole blood, or by adoption; or between first cousins.
- Cannot enter civil unions prior to dissolution of marriage or similar legal relationships.
- Individuals who live out of state, as that civil union would not be legal in their home state.
It is important to note that while civil unions are legally recognized in Illinois, they are not federally recognized.
Benefits of a Civil Union
One of the biggest benefits that a civil union provides couples with is the same state rights as a married couple in Illinois. It is for this reason that many decide to join a civil union. If a couple decides that they don’t want to be married for personal reasons or other reasons, they would still receive the same legal protections as a married couple.
The second biggest benefit of a civil union is the access to employment and healthcare benefits. In a civil union, you have access to your partner’s employer provided health insurance. Marriage oftentimes comes with social and religious obligations that some may want to demonstrate to their partner differently. A civil union is a great way to do those things.
Here is a list of some of the benefits that a civil union and a marriage share:
- Inheritance rights, or the right to automatically inherit from your spouse after he or she dies.
- Bereavement leave to mourn for your spouse.
- Right to your spouse’s employment benefits, including health insurance.
- Automatic designation as next-of-kin by medical professionals.
- Joint ownership of property, and community property rights if you’re in a community property state.
- Joint state tax filings.
- Joint parental rights over children born to or adopted by the couple.
- Right not to testify against your civil union partner, and
- Right to seek financial support or alimony after a dissolution from the civil union.
Limitations of Civil Unions
The biggest difference between a civil union and a marriage is that the former is not recognized by the federal government. Therefore, you will only get protection at a state level (and that is assuming you live in a state that recognizes civil unions.) It is because of this that couples in a civil union can’t receive the same federally based benefits that married couples receive. For example, the Social Security Administration gives benefits to partners in a marriage, but not necessarily those in a civil union. The surviving spouse of a veteran may be eligible for health coverage in a marriage, but not always in a civil union. Consequently, many couples are now opting to get married instead of entering a civil union.
The other difference is that while marriages are recognized by every state (if you get married in Illinois it will be recognized in New York) civil unions are not. That means if you get a civil union certificate in one state and then move to another state you might not get the same benefits.
As a result of these differences, it is important to consider which option is best for your new family. Though a prenuptial agreement isn’t the most romantic item on the agenda, it’s a great way to protect you and your assets before entering a marriage or civil union. An experienced attorney can answer any questions that you might have about the process.
Now that same-sex marriages are recognized federally civil unions may be a lot less popular and common. In fact, only five states allow them: Illinois, Colorado, Hawaii, Vermont, and New Jersey. However, civil unions can be beneficial in two circumstances:
- If you or your partner don’t believe in marriage or don’t like the idea of getting married, but still want many of the same legal protections.
- If you or your partner don’t want to be recognized as legally married by the federal government because of tax purposes.
Several unique issues can arise during the process of establishing or dissolving a civil union, so it is vital to have a knowledgeable lawyer to guide you through every step.
At Masters Law Group, we provide professional and individualized legal representation for a wide range of family law concerns, including civil unions. Our firm has dedicated considerable time in order to become knowledgeable and up to date in this new area of family law. Whether you want to form a civil union or are in need of a civil union dissolution, we will take the time to fully understand your situation and provide honest advice regarding your options.
Don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions, Contact us here today to schedule a consultation.