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Recent Illinois Supreme Court Ruling Finds Parental Rights In Civil Union Equal To Stepparents

Updated on
October 20, 2020
Article written by
Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty

In this article, we discuss a recent ruling from the Illinois Supreme Court that places the parental rights of individuals in a civil union and stepparents on equal ground and posits that those rights will continue after the death of their spouse. 


Put simply, a non biological parent in a civil union has the same parental rights as a stepparent.


What Led To This Ruling?


According to documents filed with the Illinois Supreme Court, Kris Kulkerson was in a civil union with Matthew Sharpe who died in 2017. Sharpe and his ex-wife shared equal parenting time for their child, but the child’s primary residence was with Sharpe and his partner Kulkerson, and her three children. After Sharpe’s death, his ex-wife took custody of their child and refused to let Kulkerson or her three children visit the child.


In an effort to gain visitation with the child, Kulkerson filed a petition for visitation and for allocation of parental rights. This forced the circuit court to certify two questions to the appellate court:


  1. Whether one party to a civil union has the legal standing to request visitation with her deceased partner’s child as a stepparent, and
  2. Whether one party to a civil union has the legal standing to request parental responsibilities.


Does An Individual In A Civil Union With A Parent Have The Same Rights As A Stepparent?


Perhaps a better way to phrase this question is whether someone in a civil union with a parent is considered a stepparent under the law. This case hinged on the supreme court’s answer to this question. Under the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, stepparents can request visitation rights and parental responsibilities if the spouse dies. The law also allows three other nonparent groups to ask for visitation: grandparents, great-grandparents, and siblings. If the court were to consider the individual in a civil union with a parent the same as a stepparent, then they should have the same rights.


Under the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act, many of the rights of married couples are afforded to couples in a civil union. The law states: “A party to a civil union is entitled to the same legal obligations, responsibilities, protections, and benefits as are afforded or recognized by the law of Illinois to spouses, whether they derive from statute, administrative rule, policy, common law, or any other source of civil or criminal law.”


The Illinois Supreme court found that the Civil Union Act was “meant to create an alternative to marriage that was equal in all respects… and not limited to the partners’ rights as to each other.” This ruling awarded Kulkerson parental and visitation rights that will be determined by the circuit court judge. The ruling likely set the precedent for future cases calling into question the parental rights of individuals in a civil union in Illinois.


If you have questions about parental rights in Illinois, please give our office a call.


Recent Illinois Supreme Court Ruling Finds Parental Rights In Civil Union Equal To Stepparents
Author

Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty

Kevin O’Flaherty is a graduate of the University of Iowa and Chicago-Kent College of Law. He has experience in litigation, estate planning, bankruptcy, real estate, and comprehensive business representation.

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