Many couples today have made the choice to opt out of marriage. They still function like a married couple in many ways, but have never signed an official marriage document. This is a personal decision, and no doubt many of the couples involved have their reasons. However, it’s important to remember that there are legal protections that come only with marriage.
Some of these protections only become apparent if or when one partner dies, or the couple decides to split up. Illinois marital property laws apply only to married couples. When a married couple decides to divorce, they must divide their marital property in a way that is considered equitable, or fair, under Illinois law. A court may even order one ex-spouse to pay alimony to the other, if that is the best way to bring about a fair division.
By contrast, a person in an unmarried, cohabitation relationship has few legal property protections when the relationship ends. Unlike some states, Illinois does not have a common-law marriage statute. (However, it may recognize a common-law marriage established in another state.) So, even in cases where the couple has lived together for many years in Illinois, the partners do not have a legal right to demand fair distribution of their household property.
Illinois does recognize legally-created domestic partnerships. These can help give people some property protections in case the relationship later ends. Some couples even work up contracts, something like a prenuptial contract, which outlines the distribution of property at the end of their relationship. However, these contracts are often ruled invalid.
People who have decided to cohabitate without getting married can talk to a family law attorney about their legal options to protect themselves.