Your Chicago Divorce: The Basics

Divorce is never an easy decision. Questions about what to do with children, how to divide property, and maintaining a certain lifestyle are common for someone considering ending a marriage. The legal aspects of divorce have a reputation of being complicated and nearly impossible to navigate alone. However, if the spouses are on relatively good terms with each other, getting a divorce in Chicago may be a little more straightforward than expected. This article covers some general information about divorces in the Windy City.

Grounds for Divorce

In Chicago, and the rest of Illinois, divorce is known as a dissolution of marriage. Indeed, the law governing matrimony and divorce is known as the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. There are many reasons for considering divorce, but there are only a few that the court recognizes as legitimate if only one spouse wants to end the marriage, which is known as a contested divorce. Those reasons listed in the law include impotency, an already existing marriage, cheating, abandoning a spouse for at least one year, addiction to drugs or alcohol, physical and/or mental cruelty, felony conviction, or infecting the spouse with a sexually transmitted disease.

In addition to the reasons based on the fault of a spouse, the divorcing spouse may also claim "irreconcilable differences" as a reason to pursue divorce. This means that the spouses have made unsuccessful attempts at saving the marriage, and that any future attempts to save the marriage would be useless. In order for "irreconcilable differences" to be grounds for divorce, courts require spouses to live separately for two years if the divorce is contested, and six months if both spouses agree to the divorce.

Division of Property

When a couple is married in Illinois, property acquired after the marriage and before legal separation is typically categorized as marital property. Non marital property is property acquired by one spouse before the marriage, after legal separation, from a judgment, gifts to one spouse only, or property received in exchange for non-marital property. Non-marital property belongs to the spouse who acquired it. Marital property is divided between the spouses according to a few factors listed in Part 5 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act.

Those factors include a spouse's contribution to the marital property, the value of the property given to each spouse, how long the marriage lasted, the financial circumstances of each spouse, prenuptial agreements, custody of children, a spouse's future income potential, and the tax consequences of dividing the property. It is important to note that one spouse's misconduct, including the reason for the divorce, is not a factor in considering how to divide marital property. Also, when considering the factors, a Chicago court may divide the property in a way that is not an equal split between the spouses.

Spousal Support - Maintenance

In some places, support may be known as spousal support or alimony. In Chicago it's called maintenance. Courts may order one spouse to pay a temporary or permanent amount to the other spouse to pay for the other spouse's needs. Whether either spouse committed any misconduct is not taken into account when a court decides and calculates maintenance.

Courts look at a number of factors, including both spouses' income and income potential, the needs of each party, the standard of living while in the marriage, the length of the marriage, the physical and mental condition of the spouses, tax consequences, an agreement between the spouses, child support obligations, and any other factor the court determines is reasonable. These factors are very similar to what courts look at when determining how to divide up property between the spouses.

Child Custody

One of the biggest issues that divorcing couples with children may face is "who gets the kids?" In Chicago and the rest of Illinois, it's not always a clear cut answer. One thing that is clear, however, is that the best interest of a child will form the basis for determining child custody. Some of the factors a court looks at are the parents' wishes, the relationship a parent has with the children, how much the child is used to the community where she is already living, the physical and mental health of the child and custodians, any history or threat of abuse by a parent, and the child's wishes.

Illinois requires that parents take a court-appointed parenting education program, as well. There are only two programs authorized by the Circuit Court of Cook County. One is online and the other in person, although the court may require a parent to attend the in-person program.

Child Support

The next question when children are involved is whether child support payments will need to be paid by the non-custodial parent (and if so, how much). Child support is money paid by a former spouse to the other for a child's health and education, among other things. The minimum amount paid is based on a percentage determined by Illinois state law. The guidelines given by that law range from 20% to 50% of the spouse's income, depending on the number of children. Courts have the right to modify the amount of child support based on a number of factors similar to those listed above for spousal support and dividing property.

Get Free Case Review

Divorces are often emotional and challenging times, and the laws involved are not always straightforward. An experienced local family law attorney may be able to provide you with helpful advice, counsel, and options that are specific to your particular circumstances. Contact a local attorney for a free case review to get started.

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

Contact a qualified attorney.