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Are Unofficial Wedding Ceremonies Considered Legal in Illinois?

 Posted on October 31, 2019 in Divorce

Barrington family law attorney for unmarried couplesWhen relationship issues occur between celebrities or high-profile couples, many people may wonder how the issues these people experience, such as divorce, would play out in their own lives. This was illustrated recently when Brody Jenner and his girlfriend, Kaitlynn Carter, broke up one year after their unofficial wedding ceremony in Indonesia. Many people thought the two were legally married, and the unofficial status of their marriage was not revealed until they split.

The fact that Jenner and Carter lived together for at least a year would make their union common law in several states. However, since Illinois does not recognize common law marriage, couples who live together in the state may not be recognized as a married couple. Prior to 1905, couples in Illinois could decide to get married without any formal documentation. Today, those in Illinois wishing to marry must meet two requirements: solemnization and registration.


Under Illinois law, marriages are valid if they involved solemnization, in which a ceremony or exchange of vows took place. A solemnization is valid even if the person performing it was not legally qualified to do so. That is, the person marrying the two people does not have to be ordained in any way, and as long as a reasonable person believed the solemnization was legal, it is considered valid in Illinois.

Under this statute alone, Jenner and Carter’s marriage would be considered valid. Their friends and family seemed to believe the marriage was real, as did the rest of the world. However, there is one more requirement in Illinois for legal marriages, and Jenner and Carter did not have it.


To be considered legally married in Illinois, a couple must register their marriage with the county clerk. This entails filling out a marriage license application and paying a fee. In some cases, a couple may have lived together in a manner similar to marriage but then broke up. In these situations, each partner may believe they are entitled to certain assets, such as the home the two shared, and they may wish to pursue a divorce to finalize those terms. Unfortunately, without a legal marriage, there can be no legal divorce.

The registration requirement is often the biggest problem for those who have lived together for a number of years before breaking up. Many people have attempted to find an exception to the registration requirement for marriages in Illinois. However, the courts have consistently found that unless a couple is legally married, they do not enjoy the rights that would be afforded to married spouses. This was decided by the Illinois Supreme Court as recently as 2016 in the case of Blumenthal v. Brewer (2014 IL App (1st) 132250). The two women in this case were not legally married because they began their relationship before same-sex marriage was legal in Illinois. However, the women lived together for many years, bought a house together, and even had children together. When they broke up, they fought over the family home. The court determined the home could not be divided because the two were never legally married.

Call Our Northwest Cook County Divorce Lawyer

If you are considering divorce, or if you need help understanding your rights as an unmarried partner in a long-term relationship, dedicated Palatine divorce lawyer Nicholas W. Richardson can answer your questions and provide you with the legal help you need. Call our office today at 847.873.6741 for your free consultation.


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