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How to File for Divorce in Illinois

Couple signing divorce papers

Marriage vows may include promises to stay together until death, but in Illinois, you don't have to wait that long. Illinois law allows for a fast and relatively uncomplicated divorce, provided you fulfill certain requirements.

Illinois Is a No-Fault Divorce State

Illinois has long had an "irreconcilable differences" ground for divorce that worked effectively like a no-fault divorce. In January 2016, the state decided to eliminate all fault-based grounds for divorce (there were 10), leaving irreconcilable differences as the sole remaining basis for divorce.

Requirements for a Divorce in Illinois

You must meet certain requirements before you can be granted a divorce in Illinois. These are:

  • Your divorce must be due to "irreconcilable differences;" and
  • You or your spouse must have lived in Illinois for at least 90 days prior to starting your divorce proceedings.

How Long Do You Have to Be Separated Before You File for Divorce in Illinois?

There is a "separate and apart" waiting period intended to allow the parties to cool down and reconsider the decision to divorce. In Illinois, this is a period of six months. You can waive this waiting period by written agreement.

How to File for Divorce in Illinois

Once you ensure you fulfill the requirements, the next step is actually filing the divorce application. This article gives you a detailed step-by-step guide on how you can file for a divorce in Illinois.

1) Get the Proper Divorce Forms

The first step to starting the divorce process is filling out and submitting several forms at your county court. The forms you complete may vary from county to county, so it is important that you do some research based on where you live.

Wherever you live, however, you will need to file what is called a "petition for dissolution of marriage." The forms are a bit different if you have children. For example, you will need to file a joint parenting agreement, uniform order of support, and visitation forms if you have children. You can also find other required forms on the Illinois court website.

2) Gather Information

Some of the information you will need when you fill out the forms include:

  • Date of your marriage
  • Date when you and your spouse separated
  • Address where you were married
  • List of personal property, real estate, and retirement accounts that you and your spouse own (either jointly or separately)
  • List of all the debts you and spouse have (either separately or together)

If you have children, there is additional information you will need to provide, including custody arrangements and child support.

3) File the Forms

If you are filing the forms without the help of an attorney, double-check to make sure all the forms are correct and complete. Then file them with the clerk of the court. This is usually located at the courthouse in your county.

Once you file the forms, the clerk will give you a case number, issue a summons, and assign a judge to the case. A summons is simply a document that notifies your spouse that they are required to appear before a court.

4) Serve your Spouse

Illinois allows you to serve your spouse in one of the following ways. A service is simply the process by which you deliver copies of the documents you filed for your divorce case.

  • Send the divorce papers via mail. Make sure to file a certificate of mailing confirming you have mailed them.
  • Have the local sheriff serve the divorce papers (note: you may need to pay a fee)
  • Publish the notice in your local newspaper (called "service by publication"). To do this, you have to show the court you can't find your spouse.
  • Hire someone else to serve your spouse (might require the court's permission)

Your spouse has 30 days from the date of service to file their response to your petition. Once you have a date of service, you can go to your county clerk to get a court date.

5) Make Financial Disclosures

A number of counties in Illinois require you to disclose your finances during the court proceedings. Making financial disclosures means each party must list the following:

  • Assets
  • Income
  • Mortgage payments
  • Bills such as credit card bills
  • Other relevant financial information

The courts will use this information to determine:

  • How marital property should be decided
  • Whether a spouse should pay alimony
  • The amount of child support the spouse has to pay

6) Attend the Court Hearing

On the day of the hearing, the judge will look at your case and decide on several things, including how to divide up your marital property and whether someone should pay spousal support. If you and your spouse have minor children, the judge will also decide on custody and child support.

You should follow these steps if the divorce is uncontested, that is if both you and your spouse agree on the terms of the divorce.

Contested Divorces

A contested divorce happens when both spouses want a divorce but can't agree on some of the terms of the divorce, like custody and spousal support. It can also occur if the spouse does not respond to the divorce petition.

In contested divorces, the judge may order you to go through additional steps like mediation. The mediation can result in an agreed settlement between the parties.

If mediation doesn't work, your case will go to trial, and the judge will make the final determination on specific issues you and your spouse couldn't agree on.

How Much Does It Cost to File for Divorce in Illinois?

The cost of filing a divorce in Illinois depends on whether you have an attorney. Your attorney's fees will depend upon how complicated your case is and your attorney's regular rates. The fees to simply file your divorce papers range from $200-300, depending on which county you file in. There may be additional costs as the divorce process continues. These include:

  • Service costs (cost of mailing the divorce papers, publishing in a local newspaper, or having a sheriff deliver the documents)
  • Mediation costs (in case the judge orders mediation)

If you don't have money to pay the fees, you may qualify for a fee waiver depending on your income.

Do You Need an Attorney to File for Divorce in Illinois?

Like all legal proceedings, it's always best to have an attorney to get the best outcome. But you can file for a divorce by yourself. The process is not very complicated if you and your spouse agree on the terms of your divorce, including how your property will be divided.

It may be best to speak to an Illinois divorce attorney, however, if your divorce is more complicated. An attorney can be helpful if you and your spouse disagree on the divorce terms, have a significant amount of property or debt to divide, have children, or either of you is seeking spousal support. It is especially important to work with an attorney if your spouse is abusive or has been hiding money from you.

Is There a Faster Way to Get a Divorce in Illinois?

If you and your spouse don't have any children, have little money, and agree on everything, Illinois courts may allow you to have what is called a joint and simplified divorce.

There are additional requirements you need to meet to qualify for a simplified divorce. Some of them are:

  • You need to be married for less than eight years
  • Neither you nor your spouse can own any real estate
  • You or your spouse can't earn more than $30,000 per year, before taxes, with neither spouse earning more than $20,000 a year,
  • You must meet the residency requirements
  • Neither you or your spouse can be financially dependent on the other

If you fulfill these requirements, ask for the required forms from your county's clerk office. Then you and your spouse should jointly file the divorce petition in the office of the clerk at the circuit court of your county.

The clerk will assign a hearing date for you. On the date of the hearing, the judge will review your forms and, if they don't see any issues, sign your divorce papers.

Legal Separation Is Also an Option

Illinois is one of the states that recognize legal separation. Legal separation does not permanently end the marriage. However, a judge must approve the separation agreement, which defines the spouses' legal rights and obligations.

This is a good option if you don't want a divorce but want to live separately and want legal clarification on matters concerning child custody, child support, child custody, and property division.

Additional Resources

How to Find a Divorce Attorney

Filing for divorce can be overwhelming, especially if you and your spouse don't agree on the terms of the divorce. It is worth your time to speak to an attorney to make sure your interests are protected. FindLaw.com offers a large directory of experienced local divorce lawyers. You can search by your city and legal issue (such as searching for a Chicago divorce lawyer) to find a divorce attorney near you.

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

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