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updated: 6/3/2011 6:52 AM

Divorces start for civil union couples

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By Jeff Engelhardt
jengelhardt@dailyherald.com

SPRINGFIELD -- On Wednesday, the same day same-sex couples were lining up to get licenses for civil unions, attorney Stephen Jacobs was submitting paperwork to end one.

The St. Charles lawyer made history Wednesday when he filed papers to dissolve a civil union on the first day the state recognized them.

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How is that possible?

Jacobs' Kane County client married her partner in Massachusetts and later moved to Illinois. The woman wanted to end the union, but because Illinois hadn't previously recognized it as legal, she couldn't.

So, the first day Illinois began recognizing out-of-state same-sex marriages as civil unions, the woman had Jacobs file for divorce, making her separation from her partner official.

At a time when same-sex couples are joyfully making their relationships legal in Illinois for the first time, Jacobs' situation is a reminder that not every union ends happily.

The process for Jacobs has been largely the same as any other divorce case, but he said couples seeking to end civil unions will be faced with unique challenges. Because there is no recognition of civil unions at the federal level, there are no protections or guidelines for important issues such as property transfers, income taxes and even child custody.

"It's going to raise a lot of questions and for the most part we don't have answers as of this point," Jacobs said. "There is going to have to be subsequent legislation to address some of the issues that are going to arise."

Jacobs' case is not an isolated incident in Illinois.

Dorothy Brown, circuit court clerk for Cook County, spent some of Thursday at Millennium Park in Chicago observing the historic civil union ceremonies, but back at her office, submissions for civil union divorces were waiting.

Brown said 12 submissions were filed on the first day -- a surprising number, she said, but not entirely unexpected. The circuit clerk's office had held discussions over recent months to prepare for civil union divorces and was ready to make the transition.

"It was unbelievable ... but that's why we decided to be prepared on the first day," Brown said.

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