Unmarried Couples Cannot Enforce Property Rights When They Split

Many couples, including same-sex partners, choose not to marry. It is understandable that couples feel a piece of paper is not necessary to validate their relationships. However, without a legal marriage or civil partnership, couples in Illinois do not have the same property rights as spouses. The Illinois Supreme Court in Blumenthal V. Brewer addressed the property rights of a couple who were partners for years but never formally married. The court stated the individuals did not have a right to equitable distribution of property acquired during the relationship because they never married. If you live with or plan to move in with someone you are romantically involved with and are not married or planning to marry, it is crucial to speak with an experienced divorce lawyer to learn your rights.


Blumenthal v. Brewer 

Eileen Brewer and Jane Blumenthal met in the 1980s and began a 26 year relationship. The couple comingled some of their finances and had three children. Brewer was the primary caregiver for the children. As an attorney, she eventually went on to become a county judge, which paid less than what Blumenthal earned as a doctor. Blumenthal built a successful medical practice, and earned a substantial income. In 2008, Blumenthal ended the relationship and moved out of the couple’s home, leaving Brewer with the mortgage, utilities, and property-related expensed. At this time, Blumenthal had a significantly higher net worth than Brewer.


Blumenthal filed a court case asking the court to partition the couple’s home. Brewer’s counterclaims requesting common law property rights were dismissed by the trial court, a decision reversed by the appellate court. The question of whether Brewer could obtain a portion of Blumenthal’s medical practice or income went up to the Illinois Supreme Court, which agreed with the trial court that Brewer did not have any property rights.


Illinois Does Not Support Common Law Marriage

Common law marriage is the premise that once a couple has been together long enough and intertwined their lives, they are considered married under the law. Eight states specifically allow common law marriage, and a few others recognize common law marriages formed before a certain date. However, Illinois law has prohibited common law marriages since 1905.


In Blumenthal v. Brewer, the court found it could not recognize the partner’s property rights as equal to that of married spouses. By allowing any unmarried partners the rights specifically granted to married couples, the court would approve common law marriages. Brewer was not allowed to receive any property settlement because she and Blumenthal had never legally married.


Unmarried Couples Should Prepare for the Future

The appellate court’s decision in Blumenthal v. Brewer marked a reversal in long standing law in Illinois. However, the Supreme Court’s reversal is rooted in Illinois statute and case law and built on older opinions and beliefs regarding marriage.


Following this opinion, unmarried couples must recognize that they will not be granted similar rights to spouses if their relationships end. This does not mean couples need to rush to the court house, but they will need to contractually prepare for the future. Unmarried couples can create valid agreements regarding how they will handle their finances and what will be due to each of them if the relationship ends.


Contact a Chicago Family Law Attorney for Help

As part of an unmarried couple, it can be difficult to find a fair ending to a serious, long-term relationship. As of right now, Illinois offers you very few property rights. However, if you owned physical property or real estate with your partner, you have a right to your portion of this property. If this is an amicable situation, you may also be able to negotiate an equitable settlement between the two of you.


As difficult as this situation is, there is hope that you and your partner can come to fair terms, enabling you both to move on without significant financial harm to either of you if your relationship ends. Call me at (312) 621-5234 or use my online contact form to schedule a consultation.