Does A Civil Union Partner Have Legal Responsibilities?

This answer to this question is easy. Laws don’t tend to provide for rights without responsibilities, so partners definitely have responsibilities to each other—and to others.

Prior to entering into a civil union or a marriage, all couples should be aware of their potential legal liabilities and what could happen down the road if their relationship takes an unpleasant turn.

For example, we all know that spouses have a duty to support each other financially. Similarly, civil union partners are liable for supporting their partners just as are spouses. This is true both during the relationship and in the event the relationship is dissolved (more to follow regarding maintenance and alimony).

Another potential liability that couples must be aware of is contained in a law called “The Illinois Family Expense Act.” This law makes each spouse and, therefore, each partner, liable for “expenses of the family” and “the education of the children.” This means that both spouses, and therefore, both partners, are legally liable to third parties, such as doctors, landlords, schools and credit card providers for expenses incurred for the family.

As you might imagine, family expenses are defined very broadly, so there are many expenses which are included in this category. Typical family expenses include food, shelter, household items, utilities, clothing, furniture, furnishings, transportation, educational, hospital and medical bills. It’s important to know that even if your name isn’t on an invoice or statement and even if you didn’t know in advance that your spouse or partner purchased the item or signed for the expense, you are just as liable.

If that doesn’t seem fair to you, remember that laws tend to give benefits with one hand and obligations with the other. Couples contemplating a civil union would be wise to heed the same advice given to couples before marrying: make sure your eyes wide open and you know what you’re signing up for. Otherwise, you may end up paying—literally.