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Pension Funds in Relation to Civil Union Spouses in Illinois

By Nottage and Ward on August 22, 2011

This post marks the conclusion of our blog series that discussed the new benefits given to civil union spouses under Illinois’ new civil union law. We have covered health insurance, workers’ comp, life insurance, auto and homeowners’ policies, and more in relation to civil union spouses. Our last topic covers pension fund benefits.

Are spouses in a civil union entitled to survivor benefits under pension funds for police officers and firefighters?

Yes, since the civil union law provides that civil union spouses are to be given all of the same benefits that are given to married spouses, which include pension-related survivor benefits. However, spouses in a civil union are subject to the same restrictions and obligations in relation to these benefits that married spouses are. For example, the surviving spouse of a police officer is entitled to survivor benefits only if the couple was joined in a civil union or married before retirement. Similarly, the surviving spouse of a firefighter is eligible for benefits only if the civil union or marriage occurred at least one year before the death of the firefighter.

In relation to this one-year requirement, if a civil union was entered into in another state before the civil union law became effective, the date of the civil union shall be counted as effective.

It is important to note that Illinois’ civil union law does not increase the frequency or amount of benefits paid to a spouse by a public pension fund; the law simply clarifies to whom these benefits can be paid.

Now that the civil union law is in effect in Illinois, only now are subtleties to the law coming into play. Recently, for example, a tax problem for civil union couples was found. As the law becomes clearer and changes are made, many in the state may be left with questions regarding what rights a civil union offers to those joined in one.

At Nottage and Ward, our civil union attorneys in Chicago have exclusively practiced family law for over 20 years. We can help you understand the civil union law in Illinois as well as answer any questions you may have about what benefits civil union couples are granted. To have your questions answered by an experienced lawyer, call 312-332-2915 today.

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