If you are contemplating divorce in Illinois, you must carefully follow the proper procedure for your specific county. 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." Like the majority of states, Illinois offers two types of divorce: fault-based and no-fault. Most couples pursue a no-fault case because it allows you to leave out the reasons for the breakup. Rather than placing blame or listing out potentially embarrassing details, many couples prefer 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 separate from each other for a specific length of time. If you both agree to proceed with a no-fault dissolution of marriage, the period of separation must be at least six months. If only one person wishes to pursue a no-fault complaint, the time period is two years.
If you wish to file a fault-based complaint, Illinois offers 11 different grounds, which include:
Because Illinois courts rarely consider either spouse's fault as a basis for property division, most people don't bother listing any fault-based reasons for divorce.
Once you have determined which type of divorce you want to file, gather the appropriate forms. The Cook County Circuit Court provides links to free forms on its website. Because each county in Illinois has its own specific forms, the state doesn't have a uniform set of domestic relations forms. 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:
If you and your spouse settle your divorce before it goes to trial, Illinois law requires you to present your agreement and all related documents at a "prove up" hearing. 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.
The Illinois Legal Aid website provides a Prove Up Checklist, which is useful for making sure you have all the proper documents assembled for the court's review.
Once you have filled out all the required forms for your particular county, you must 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 $150 and $300. It's best to take cash or a certified check, as most jurisdictions will not accept debit cards or personal checks.
Illinois law allows the filing spouse to "serve" the other spouse by private process server, sheriff's service, or publication. "Service" is simply the process of providing the other side with copies of the documents filed in the case. 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.
If you can't locate your spouse, Illinois law also allows you to publish notification of the divorce in a local newspaper. Service by publication can cost several hundred dollars, however, so it's best to exhaust all efforts to track down an address before resorting to this option.
A growing number of Illinois counties also require both sides to file a Financial Disclosure Statement with the court. The form, which requires each party to list out his or her assets and debts, streamlines the process of dividing marital property.
See our section on Illinois Divorce and Family Law for more information on the process and related legal issues.