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The Schiller DuCanto & Fleck Family Law Center Hears Diverse Perspectives From Opposing Counsel in Blumenthal v. Brewer

The Schiller DuCanto & Fleck Family Law Center held its final Lunch-n-Learn program for the fall semester on Tuesday, December 1st. For this program, the center invited opposing counsel, Angelika Kuehn and Reuben Bernick, from the potentially ground-breaking case Blumenthal v. Brewer to discuss their differing views and approach to the case.  Professor Roberta Kwall’s family law class attended the presentation and Professor Kwall introduced the attorneys to start the program. 

Blumenthal v. Brewer, a property owner sought to partition property she owned with her former domestic partner and the former partner brought a counterclaim seeking imposition of a constructive trust over the property or a partition adjusting for her sole financial liability of the property. The case raised the issue whether, under Illinois law, a property owner could bring common law claims against her former same-sex domestic partner in relation to real property they owned together. The attorneys explained the case’s procedural history to the students, noting that that former partner’s counterclaim was dismissed in the trial court but upheld by the Illinois Appellate Court. They also explained their differing views on the case. Attorney Kuehn, who represents the appellant, argued that Illinois public policy in relation to unmarried couples has shifted, implicitly overruling Illinois’s categorical restriction on claims by unmarried partners. Thus, Illinois courts can depart from this precedent and recognize property rights between unmarried cohabitants. Attorney Bernick disagreed with that perspective and argued that Illinois law has remained unchanged in respect to common law marriage and does not recognize it. As such, Illinois precedent squarely precludes enforcing property rights between former cohabitants because doing so would grant them the benefits of a legal marriage. Therefore appellant’s counterclaim in respect to the property must be denied.   

The discussion was interesting and insightful and allowed the students to hear differing perspectives and counterarguments on an important and potentially precedent-setting area of family law—specifically relating to cohabitation and the division of property. The case is now on appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court and a decision is expected at some point after the holidays.    ​​​