If you're contemplating divorce in Illinois, you’ll need to follow certain procedures to start your case. You can file for divorce on your own or with the help of an attorney. This article provides a basic outline of the Illinois divorce process and some helpful links to assist you in preparing your own case.
Divorce in Illinois is referred to as "dissolution of marriage." Illinois offers two types of divorce: fault-based and no-fault divorces. In a fault divorce, one spouse must prove that the other spouse engaged in marital misconduct that led to the divorce.
In a no-fault divorce, you don’t have to prove that your spouse caused the breakup. Rather than placing blame or listing out potentially embarrassing details, a no-fault divorce allows you to simply state that the marriage is "irretrievably broken."
To file a no-fault dissolution of marriage, you or your spouse must have lived in Illinois for at least 90 days and lived separately from each other for at least two years. Notably, Illinois law doesn’t require separated couples to live in different households. Living “separate and apart” just means that the couple has lived more like roommates than like spouses.
Alternatively, if both spouses stipulate in writing that the marriage is irretrievably broken, the couple only needs to be separated for six months before seeking a divorce. See 750 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/401 (2019).
If you wish to file a fault-based complaint, you can cite one or more grounds for divorce, including:
Because Illinois courts rarely consider either spouse's fault as a basis for property division, many couples don't bother listing any fault-based reasons for divorce.
Once you have determined which type of divorce you want to file, you’ll need to gather and complete the appropriate forms. The Illinois Supreme Court publishes standard divorce forms on its website.
Keep in mind that the county where you live may require additional or different forms. For example, the Cook County Circuit Court has links to Cook County divorce forms on its website. Check with your local circuit court clerk if you have questions about what forms are required in your county.
At a minimum, however, you will need to file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage (written request for a divorce). The spouse that files the divorce petition is called the "plaintiff" or "petitioner," and the other spouse is the "defendant" or "respondent."
If you live in the greater Chicago area and will be filing in Cook County, you must file the following forms:
If you have minor children, you must also file the following additional forms:
Illinois allows couples without minor children and minimal assets to file for a “Joint Simplified Divorce.” To qualify, you and your spouse must meet Illinois residency requirements, and the following additional criteria:
Joint Simplified Divorces use different forms than a traditional divorce filing. Illinois Legal Aid publishes Cook County joint simplified divorce forms. Other county’s forms are available through your local court clerk’s office.
Even if you and your spouse don’t qualify for a simplified divorce, you can still resolve your divorce case without a trial. To resolve your case, you and your spouse would have to sign a divorce settlement agreement and present the agreement and all related documents at a "prove up" hearing before a judge. During the hearing, you must be prepared to answer the judge's questions about how your agreement splits up the marital property and supply any requested documentation to support your answers.
Once you have filled out all the required forms for your particular county, you’ll need to file them with the clerk of court. In most jurisdictions, the clerk's office is conveniently located within the courthouse. Be prepared to pay your filing fee when you submit your documents to the clerk. Costs vary, with most divorce filing fees ranging between $200 and $350.
It's best to take cash or a certified check, in case the court will not accept debit cards or personal checks. You can call your local court clerk beforehand to find out about the filing fee. You may also ask about a fee waiver depending on your financial circumstances. More information about fee waivers is available on Illinois’ Legal Aid website.
Illinois law allows the filing spouse to "serve" the other spouse by private process server or the sheriff's office. Alternatively, with permission from the court, you can use a non-party over the age of 18 to deliver your forms.
Service is simply the process of providing your spouse with copies of the divorce documents filed in the case. Using the sheriff's service is the preferred method of service in most Illinois counties. Once the sheriff has delivered your papers, you will receive a proof of service document, which you must file with the court. See 735 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/2-202 (2019).
If you can't locate your spouse, your spouse is in jail, or your spouse is deployed with the military, you may need to use an alternative method of service. Check with your court clerk about service rules in these unique situations.
A growing number of Illinois counties also require both spouses to file a Financial Disclosure Statement with the court during the divorce process. Financial Disclosures require each party to list his or her assets and debts, income sources, mortgage expenses, credit card bills, and other financial information. Financial Disclosures streamline the process of dividing marital property and help judges decide alimony and child support awards.