How Do I File for Divorce in Illinois?

How to file for divorce in Illinois depends in part on whether your divorce is contested or uncontested.

By , Attorney

Every state has its own rules and procedures for filing a divorce. Here's what you need to know to get started with your Illinois divorce (also called a "dissolution of marriage").

Residency Requirements for Divorce in Illinois

You must meet a state's residency requirements before you can file for divorce in its courts. To get a divorce in Illinois, at least one spouse must live in the state (or be stationed there while serving in the military) for a minimum of 90 days before filing. (750 Ill. Comp. Stat § 5/401(a) (2021).)

The Grounds for Divorce in Illinois

Illinois is a "no-fault" divorce state—meaning that the courts don't require one spouse to prove that the other's bad acts were the cause of the divorce. No-fault divorces reach resolution faster than fault-based divorces because the spouses don't have to argue about or prove who was responsible for the divorce. Also, with a no-fault divorce, you don't have to have your spouse's consent to end the marriage.

An Illinois court will find that there is good reason (grounds) to grant a divorce when:

  • irreconcilable differences have caused the breakdown of the marriage, and there's no chance of reconciliation, or
  • the spouses live separate and apart for a continuous period of 6 or more months immediately before the entry of the divorce judgment.

(750 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/401 (2021).)

How to File for Divorce in Illinois

Generally, there are two types of divorce—uncontested and contested. An uncontested divorce is one where the spouses agree on all divorce-related matters, such as division of property, child custody, and alimony (spousal support). A contested divorce, on the other hand, is one where the spouses disagree on at least one topic and must ask a court to decide the issues in their divorce.

Uncontested divorces usually reach resolution faster and are less expensive than contested divorces because there's no fighting in court. Instead, the judge needs only to review and approve the spouses' marital settlement agreement and issue a divorce decree.

To get a divorce in Illinois, you'll need to file your divorce paperwork in the Illinois circuit court where either you or your spouse lives. (750 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/104 (2021).)

Unlike some states, Illinois doesn't have a "waiting period" between when you file your divorce and when the court can start processing it—Illinois courts can begin processing divorce cases as soon as the time has passed for the non-filing spouse to respond to the petition (usually 30 days).

How to File an Uncontested Divorce in Illinois

When you and your spouse have agreed on the issues in your divorce, the next step in getting an uncontested divorce in Illinois is to file the required paperwork. Check with the clerk of the court to confirm what's required, but in most courts you'll need to file a:

These are the basic forms to get started with an Illinois divorce; depending on your situation you might have to file different or additional forms. Read the forms and their instructions for detailed guidance.

Illinois Joint Simplified Dissolution

Spouses who agree on the terms of their divorce and who meet certain requirements can file for an expedited form of dissolution called "joint simplified dissolution." To qualify for a joint simplified dissolution, the following must be true:

  • neither spouse is seeking maintenance
  • one or both of the spouses meet the residency requirements
  • the marriage is irreconcilably broken
  • no children were born of the marriage or adopted during the marriage, and neither spouse is pregnant by the other
  • the marriage lasted 8 or fewer years
  • neither spouse has an interest in real property or retirement benefits, unless the retirement benefits are exclusively held in individual retirement accounts and the combined value of the accounts is less than $10,000
  • the fair market value of all marital property (minus debts) is less than $50,000 and the combined gross annualized income from all sources is less than $60,000, and neither party has a gross annualized income in excess of $30,000
  • the parties have disclosed to each other all assets and liabilities and their tax returns for all years of marriage
  • the parties have a written agreement dividing all assets in excess of $100 in value and allocating responsibility for debts and liabilities between the parties, and
  • the parties have a written agreement allocating ownership of and responsibility for any pets.

(750 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/452 (2021).)

How to File a Contested Divorce in Illinois

A contested divorce begins when one of the spouses files a petition for divorce (dissolution) with the court. In Illinois, many of the documents you need for a contested divorce are the same as the forms for an uncontested divorce. However, you'll want to read each form carefully to make sure that it's not specific to an uncontested or joint simplified dissolution.

After your spouse responds to the petition, the court will schedule a court date for a hearing. If your court's clerk doesn't automatically schedule a hearing date, be sure to request one. The judge will make decisions about any issue you and your spouse can't agree on.

When the hearing is over, if the judge has enough information to make a decision, the judge might enter a Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage on the spot. If the judge needs more time, though, the court will alert you when the judge has made the final decision.

It can take from six months to two years to finalize a contested dissolution in Illinois.

Divorce Filing Fees in Illinois

Along with filing the right paperwork, you'll have to pay court filing fees to begin your divorce. Filing fees in Illinois vary from county to county, so you'll need to contact the circuit court clerk to find out the fees at the court where you plan to file. As just one example, as of 2021 the filing fees for a dissolution of marriage in Lake County are $334.

If you can't afford to pay the filing fees, you can ask the judge to waive the fees. You can request a fee waiver by filing an Application for Waiver of Court Fees. Illinois Legal Aid Online has an online program to help you prepare a fee waiver. If the court grants your request to waive fees, you will not have to pay any court costs—such as filing fees or fees for issuance of service of process—during your divorce.

Serving Your Spouse in Illinois

Once you file the paperwork, you will need to provide notice to your spouse of the divorce. Illinois has two ways to give your spouse notice of the divorce:

  • Service of Summons and Petition. You can hire the sheriff in the county where your spouse lives to serve your spouse with the divorce documents. You'll pay the clerk the sheriff's fees when you file your divorce petition (or, if you have a fee waiver, you won't have to pay for service within Illinois). The sheriff can serve the documents on your spouse either in person or by mail. If the sheriff serves your spouse in person, the sheriff might file the proof of service with the court or mail it to you (in which case, you'll need to file it with the clerk). If you choose to have the sheriff mail the documents, you'll need to provide the sheriff with a self-addressed and stamped envelope for the sheriff to mail a return of service—proof that your spouse was served—to you.
  • Entry of Appearance. Your spouse can agree to waive service by filling out and filing an Entry of Appearance form.

Getting Help Filing Your Illinois Divorce

If you'd like to DIY your divorce, many of the forms you'll need are available on the Illinois courts' website. Also, Illinois Legal Aid has an "easy form" program online that helps you fill out all the forms you need for a divorce.

If you're working with an attorney, your attorney will assess your situation and fill out, file, and serve all the necessary forms. Many divorcing couples can't afford to hire an attorney to handle their entire case, but would like some assistance with completing and filing their forms. If this describes your situation, consider using an online divorce service or finding an attorney who will consult with you on an as-needed basis. Low-income individuals might qualify for reduced-fee or free legal aid.