There is always a constant and lively discussion about the rights of married couples, as well as the rights of each half of a married couple. However, very often the rights of couples who are unmarried and cohabitating are forgotten or misunderstood. Even if a couple is unmarried, if they conduct themselves as a couple, they may be able to secure particular rights under the law. If marriage is not for you, you and your partner can still assert certain privileges as a unit.
Many couples who do not wish to marry still desire some sort of structure to their relationship, and some may decide to draw up cohabitation agreements. While unmarried couples have no intrinsic rights to each other’s property or income, cohabitation agreements can provide for a particular property division or right to the other person in the relationship. This was formerly a very common option for same-sex couples before Obergefell v. Hodges granted marriage equality in all 50 states in 2015, but heterosexual couples are also frequent cohabiters. While cohabitation can sometimes develop into common-law marriage in some states, it does not always, nor does it have to necessarily.
Cohabitation agreements are sometimes scorned in the same manner as prenuptial agreements, in that they are “not romantic’’ and seem to be a “self-fulfilling prophecy” that brings about the end of the relationship. However, cohabitation agreements are extremely useful upon the end of a relationship—especially if no other provisions were made—to prevent one or both parties from feeling taken advantage of. In many states, cohabitation agreements can also make provisions for appropriate support and/or maintenance, also known as “palimony.” In Illinois, however, neither palimony nor common-law marriage are recognized (though if you were common-law married in another state, Illinois will recognize that as a valid marriage).
Another common way to safeguard one’s rights in property, though not necessarily in status, is by drafting mutual wills. Unless it can be shown that a testator (the person whose intentions are expressed in the will) was unduly influenced, wills are considered be valid if they comply with all legal requirements. Ensure your wills comply with the law, and there are very few challenges that can overturn them.
In terms of rights regarding an individual’s person and well-being, a power of attorney can also provide security for unmarried couples. Without a power of attorney expressly granting authority to make decisions on your behalf, your partner may not only be prevented from making such decisions, but he or she may not even be permitted to see you in the hospital. Powers of attorney and healthcare declarations (such as living wills) can grant your partner the authority to visit you and make decisions regarding your health. In Illinois, these are referred to as Durable Powers of Attorney for Health Care.
Contact an Experienced Attorney
Couples who choose not to marry deserve to have the same rights as those who do – especially when it comes to matters of health care and property. The passionate St. Charles family law attorneys at Bochte, Kuzniar & Navigato, P.C. have been practicing for many years and have significant experience in helping unmarried couples with the appropriate paperwork that safeguards their rights and privileges. Contact our office today to discuss your options.