Law School Case Brief
Blumenthal v. Brewer - 2016 IL 118781, 69 N.E.3d 834, 2016 Ill. LEXIS 763, 410 Ill. Dec. 289
The Illinois Legislature intended marriage to be the only legally protected family relationship under Illinois law, and permitting unmarried partners to enforce mutual property rights might encourage formation of such relationships and weaken marriage as the foundation of our family-based society.
Dr. Jane E. Blumenthal filed an action for partition of the family home she shared and jointly owned with Judge Eileen M. Brewer. The couple had maintained a long-term, domestic relationship and raised a family together but had never married. Blumenthal sought partition of the residence when the relationship ended and she moved out. She requested, in the alternative, that if the property could not be divided without manifest injustice to the parties in interest, then it should be sold by or under the direction of the court, with the proceeds of the sale to be divided among the parties "according to their respective rights or interests in such proceeds as ascertained and declared" by the court.
Brewer's opposition was premised on the couple's domestic relationship, which Brewer characterized as identical in every essential way to that of a married couple. The partition action itself presented no question under Hewitt. The problem arose when Brewer counterclaimed for various common-law remedies, including sole title to the home as well as an interest in Blumenthal's ownership share in a medical group so that the couple's overall assets would be equalized now that the couple had ended their relationship. In the circuit court, Blumenthal successfully argued that all counts of Brewer's counterclaim were barred as a matter of law by the decision by the Supreme Court of Illinois in Hewitt, which held that Illinois public policy, as set forth in this state's statutory prohibition against common-law marriage, precludes knowingly unmarried cohabitants from bringing claims against one another to enforce mutual property rights where those rights are rooted in a marriage-like relationship between the parties. Brewer maintained that in light of profound changes, Hewitt's restriction on common-law claims being brought by unmarried partners has been implicitly overruled and that continued application of Hewitt would directly contravene the current policy of this state. Blumenthal contended that Hewitt remains good law because it gives effect to Illinois's ongoing public policy that individuals acting privately by themselves cannot create a marriage relationship and that the government must be involved in the creation of that bond. The appellate court agreed with Brewer and vacated the dismissal of her counterclaim. Blumenthal sought further review.
Was Hewitt still a good law applicable to the partition action brought by Blumenthal against Brewer?
On appeal, the Supreme Court of Illinois affirmed the dismissal of the counterclaim by the trial court, concluding that since marriage is a legal relationship that all individuals may or may not enter into, Illinois did not act irrationally or discriminatorily in refusing to grant benefits and protections under the Marriage and Dissolution Act to those who do not participate in the institution of marriage. As noted in Hewitt and the line of cases that follow its holding, unmarried individuals may make express or implied contracts with one another, and such contracts will be enforceable if they are not based on a relationship indistinguishable from marriage. Indeed, Hewitt did nothing more than effectuate the policy established by the legislature to prevent knowingly unmarried cohabitants from evading the statutory abolition of common-law marriage under section 214 of the Marriage and Dissolution Act (750 ILCS 5/214 (West 2010)) by employing theories of implied contract to achieve the same result that would occur if common-law marriage were recognized.
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