Illinois Supreme Court Affirms Stepparent Rights in Civil Unions Ruling Clarifies That Civil Unions Are Equal to Marriages 'In All Respects' Stepparent

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), September 30, 2020 | Go to article overview

Illinois Supreme Court Affirms Stepparent Rights in Civil Unions Ruling Clarifies That Civil Unions Are Equal to Marriages 'In All Respects' Stepparent


Byline: PETER HANCOCK Capitol News Illinois

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled last Thursday that parents involved in civil unions have the same stepparenting rights as married individuals and that those rights continue even after the death of their spouse.

"This is a great decision, not only for the LGBTQ community but for all couples who decided to enter into a civil union," John Knight of the ACLU of Illinois said in a statement after the ruling. "The court clearly recognized that when the Illinois General Assembly passed the Civil Union Act, it intended to extend to civil union partners all the rights and responsibilities of marriage, including those of a stepparent."

The case actually did not involve an LGBTQ couple. It involved a woman, Kris Fulkerson, whose partner, Matthew Sharpe, died in 2017. Sharpe had a child identified in court documents only as A.S. Sharpe with his ex-wife, Crystal Westmoreland, before their 2013 divorce.

Sharpe and Westmoreland shared equal parenting time, but A.S. continued to live with Sharpe at their home in the Metro East with Fulkerson and her three children. After Sharpe died, Westmoreland took custody of A.S. and stopped allowing the child to visit Fulkerson or her other children.

Fulkerson filed a petition seeking visitation rights and an allocation of parental responsibilities. Westmoreland then asked the circuit court to certify

two questions for an appellate court to decide: Whether a party to a civil union has standing to request visitation with her deceased partner's child as a stepparent, and whether that party has standing to request parental responsibilities.

Under Illinois law, the court noted, stepparents are allowed to seek visitation rights and parental responsibilities when their spouse dies. The court also noted that only three other classes of nonparents are allowed to seek visitation rights grandparents, great-grandparents and siblings.

The question before the court, however, was whether someone who is not married to the birth parent, but instead is part of a civil union, qualifies as a stepparent. …

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