Every year, more than 24,000 couples in Illinois get divorced. If you are considering ending your marriage, you are in good company!
However, getting divorced involves more than just signing a piece of paper and finding somewhere new to live. This legal process requires a lot of planning and preparation even in the most amicable of circumstances.
So what is the divorce process in Illinois and how can you prepare for it? Read on to find out everything you need to know about getting divorced in Illinois.
What are the Grounds for Divorce in Illinois?
The divorce rate in Illinois is currently one of the lowest in the United States, with 6.6% of marriages ending in divorce. However, this doesn’t mean that it is difficult to get a divorce in the state.
The main thing you and your ex will need to do is establish grounds for divorce. Common legal grounds for this include:
- Abandonment for one year or more
- Habitual drunkenness or drug abuse
- Mental or physical cruelty
- Felony convictions
Of course, these circumstances may not apply to every couple that wants to divorce. In that case, you can file for a “no-fault” divorce. This cites “irreconcilable differences” as the reason for your relationship ending.
This requires you to prove that reconciliation is impossible. You and your ex need to have been separated for two years or more without successful reconciliation. You may attend couple’s counseling and other support groups during this time.
If both of you are certain that reconciliation is not on the cards, you can acknowledge this in writing after six months. You must not have attempted to reconcile during this six-month window. Once you have done this you will be able to start the divorce proceedings immediately.
What is the Divorce Process in Illinois?
When it comes to getting divorced in Illinois, there are several things you will need to consider. Any divorce case can involve:
- A lot of paperwork and submission deadlines
- Discussions about the division of assets
- Agreements for arrangements such as child custody
- Trials in family court if an agreement cannot be reached before this
While you and your ex may agree on the terms of your divorce, this has to be legally finalized by an Illinois Court. They will review your case and pass judgment on what is fair.
The length of time it takes to reach a fair agreement that both parties are happy with will determine how long your divorce takes.
This can also be an incredibly emotional and overwhelming time for everyone involved. Because of this, it is important to reach out for personal and professional support.
An experienced divorce lawyer will talk you through your divorce options and advocate on your behalf during litigation. They will ensure that your divorce ends fairly for you.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at exactly what each step in the legal divorce process in Illinois involves.
1. Deciding on Your Grounds for Divorce
The most common contributing factors to divorce relate to irreconcilable differences. These include a lack of commitment, conflicting opinions, and arguments. Other grounds for divorce, such as infidelity, tend to be “final straw” acts.
It is up to you what you select as your grounds for divorce. You should think about this carefully as it may have a bearing on the litigation process further down the line. This will ensure that you get a fair outcome for your unique circumstances.
For example, let’s say that you file for a divorce on the grounds of adultery. In that case, your ex may have to offer additional financial reparations for emotional damages during the marriage.
If you have suffered domestic abuse during your relationship, it is important to list this in your divorce paperwork. This will have an impact on child custody arrangements. It can also help you file for temporary protection from your ex-partner.
However, you should be prepared to support your reason for seeking a divorce. You will need this if your spouse contests your reasons for filing for a divorce. If you cannot provide evidence to support your reasoning then you may have to file a no-fault divorce instead.
If you are not sure which type of divorce to choose it is a good idea to ask a legal professional. They will be able to review the details of your case and suggest which divorce you should file for.
If you and your spouse are on good terms then you may wish to discuss your reasons for filing for divorce before you submit your paperwork. Preparing for this will ensure that your divorce runs as smoothly as possible.
2. Filing Your Petition for the Dissolution of Marriage
To begin the legal divorce process you need to file a petition for the dissolution of marriage. This is a form that lists the details of your marriage and your reasons for seeking a divorce.
For example, you will need to provide:
- Personal information for you and your spouse
- The date that you were married
- Where you got married
- The names of any children that you have together
- The date of when you and your spouse separated
While filling out the petition you will also provide information on the division of assets and child custody arrangements. For example, you can propose that:
- Each spouse will get to keep their individually owned items
- You would like to maintain the marital home as your residence
- You would like to divide the property that you have acquired during the marriage
- You should have joint or sole custody of any minors
Of course, you can discuss this information in advance with your spouse. The amount that you agree on will affect how quickly you can finalize your divorce.
However, this is also your opportunity to lay out your terms so make sure that you stick to your guns. You do not want to offer a deal that is too soft early on or your spouse’s lawyers may take advantage of this during the litigation process. Instead, focus on what you think you should be entitled to when leaving the marriage.
Once you have filled out your petition you can file it at the local courthouse.
3. Serving Your Spouse With the Divorce Paperwork
After you have filed your petition for dissolution of marriage with the local court you also need to present a copy of it to your spouse. You will need to do this even if you have discussed getting divorced with them before.
This gives them an opportunity to look through the petition themselves and respond to it (more on this in a moment.)
At the same time as serving your spouse with the petition, they will also receive a summons to appear and answer it. This usually contains a date for responding to the petition.
Illinois requires a third party to present your spouse with a copy of the petition and their summons. So you cannot just pass this on yourself.
You can ask the local courthouse to do this for an additional fee. In that case, the County Sheriff will deliver the paperwork on your behalf.
You can also use a private server to do this on your behalf. There are serving companies available around Illinois who will usually deliver the paperwork faster than your local court will. This could save you some time if you want to get your divorce finalized as quickly as possible.
Once your spouse has been served with your petition then they will have 30 days to respond to it.
4. Receiving a Response From Your Spouse
Your spouse needs to provide a response to your petition. This is known as their “Answer to your Petition for Dissolution”.
It is their opportunity to contest your reason for divorce or any of your terms. This can happen even if your spouse seemed to agree with your terms before you filed for a divorce.
Once you have received and read their response you may be able to reach an agreement quickly. This might involve adjusting minor terms. In that case, you will be able to present a petition that you agree upon to the court.
This is usually quick to finalize and will ensure that your divorce is completed as soon as possible.
However, if your spouse wants to contest a lot of terms in your petition then this will take much longer. In that case, you will need to enter the litigation process.
5. The Litigation Process
Litigation is another name for the negotiations that happen when a couple gets divorced. This might include deciding who gets to keep the marital home, for example, and other financial assets.
The litigation process can be very long as it requires full disclosure of the assets involved.
For example, to demonstrate your financial history you will need to provide tax returns, paychecks, and bank statements. You may also need to provide a full list of your financial investments.
This is usually the start of the “discovery” process. Discovery involves creating a paper trail of anything that might be valuable for negotiations.
For example, if you are seeking spousal support then you may want to supply evidence that you sacrificed work or financial gain for the relationship. This might involve producing letters of resignation when you started a family or job offers that you rejected.
Evidence that you find in the discovery process should help to support the claims that you have made in your petition. Once your lawyers have a copy of these they will build a strong case on your behalf.
Litigation usually involves some to-ing and fro-ing between you and your ex-spouse via your divorce lawyers. This continues until you find an arrangement for the division of assets that both of you are happy with.
6. Custody Agreements
If you have children with your spouse then you will also need to make child custody arrangements during the litigation process. Even if you and your spouse agree on sharing joint custody of your children, you still need to decide:
- A schedule for contact time with each parent
- Which home they are going to live in for the majority of the time
- The amount of child maintenance support that each parent needs to pay
This can be an emotional topic to discuss but it is one area where you really need to fight for what you want. Divorced dads in Illinois, for example, have very little contact with their kids in comparison to the rest of the country. The custody agreements that you put in place will have a big impact on this type of contact.
When arranging custody for your children it can be tempting to be selfish and focus on what you want. However, it is important to prioritize your children’s needs over yours. This might mean supporting their relationship with your spouse in the custody arrangement.
If you have concerns about your child’s safety with your spouse then you can also raise this. You will need to provide evidence to support your concerns. You can also find a middle ground by allowing contact visits with a supervising adult that you trust.
Your lawyer can help you organize a custody arrangement. However, it can also help to get an experienced mediator involved.
Mediators help you to focus on and prioritize your children’s needs during litigation. This will also be the priority of the judge that reviews your case.
7. Filing Temporary Relief Orders
During the divorce process, you will come up with an agreement for financial and practical support. However, proceedings can go on for months or even years. So you may need to have this support in place before your divorce has been finalized.
In that case, you can submit a temporary relief application to the courthouse. This outlines the kind of support you are looking for on a temporary basis.
For example, if your spouse has moved out of the family home, you may need child maintenance support for your children.
Your spouse can provide this without a temporary relief request, of course. However, if they are not willing to provide support the court will review your applications. They may also hold a hearing to review the documents that you have presented.
After this, a judge will provide a ruling on the support that you have requested. If they approve it then your spouse will have to provide this support until your divorce is finalized.
The divorce process in Illinois does as much as possible to keep these cases out of family courtrooms.
After all, it benefits everyone involved if you and your spouse can come to an agreement voluntarily. This allows you to move forward feeling empowered in the decisions that you have made. It also means that you can avoid footing the bill for a courtroom trial.
That said, around 5% of divorces go to trial in America. This usually happens if a couple is disputing a large sum of money or if one spouse refuses to settle.
The first phase of this involves a pre-trial in the judge’s chambers. If you and your spouse both have lawyers then they will represent you during this.
At the pre-trial, the judge will review your case with both attorneys and give one final push to reach an agreement. Your attorney will not agree to anything without consulting you first. However, they will come back to you with the judge’s recommendations and ask whether you will consider these.
It is important to listen to these recommendations and consider them carefully. They can give you a good idea of how your case will fare in a family court trial. During this time your lawyer will also share their opinion with you on the best course of action.
If you still are not satisfied with the agreement on offer or have concerns about it then you can refuse once more.
9. Trial in Family Court
After you have refused a pre-trial agreement your divorce case will appear in family court. You will receive a date for your trial when the family court is available. It is worth noting that this can delay your divorce proceedings by weeks or months.
This works in a similar way to other courtrooms, with both parties presenting evidence to support their arguments. While there is not a “defendant” and a “prosecutor”, you will have to defend your stance on the agreement.
Your arguments can rely on documented evidence that you presented during the discovery process. It can also feature your own testimony about the relationship and witness statements to support this.
In certain circumstances, you can ask professionals to appear as witnesses. For example, if you are looking for disability support from your spouse you may have a doctor as a witness.
You and your witnesses can be questioned by both sets of attorneys during the trial. This gives both parties an opportunity to argue their case.
Divorce trials do not involve juries. Instead, a judge will review most supporting documents before the trial starts. Then they will observe at the trial itself and make a decision based on what they have seen.
This decision will be based on what they deem to be fair in the eyes of the law. Once a judge has passed down their decision appealing this can be very difficult.
Most divorce trials do not take longer than a full day. In fact, if your divorce trial runs for longer than its allocated time then you may be asked to postpone it. You will have to resume on a date when the court is available and this can seriously slow down your divorce process.
10. Finalizing a Divorce in Illinois
Once your divorce proceedings have been completed a judge will enter their judgment on the dissolution of your marriage. This order means that you are divorced in the eyes of the law.
To finalize your divorce, you and your ex-spouse will receive a copy of this document. This can take a number of weeks or months to arrive depending on how busy the court is at the time.
Tips for Speeding Up the Divorce Process in Illinois
Divorce can be a long and expensive process. Fortunately, there are plenty of things that you can do to speed this process up. This includes:
- Meeting all of your deadlines for filing paperwork
- Discussing your agreements beforehand to organize an uncontested divorce
- Asking your spouse to sign an Entry of Appearance Waiver and Consent form
- Getting your financial and supporting documents organized beforehand
- Considering what a fair arrangement will be and preparing to negotiate on this
- Avoiding taking your divorce to trial
It can also help to get support from an experienced family law firm. They will take care of filling out and filing paperwork on your behalf. They can also help you gather evidence to support your case and will liaise with your spouse’s lawyers on your behalf.
This all means that you can focus on looking after yourself and getting settled with your new life during the divorce process.
Get Support With the Divorce Process in Illinois Today
As you can see, the answer to “What is the divorce process in Illinois?” is a long one.
This process requires a lot of time and practical planning if you are going to reach an agreement that you are happy with. Because of this, it is a good idea to get support from an experienced divorce lawyer as soon as possible. They will help you reach the best deal possible so that you can focus on looking after yourself during this difficult time.
So what are you waiting for? Get in touch with Prime Law Group today for support with your divorce. We’re happy to help.