Illinois Divorce FAQs

Find the answers to frequently asked questions about getting a divorce in Illinois.

Over time, some states have adopted no-fault divorce statutes, which allow either spouse to petition for divorce based on irreconcilable differences. Illinois recognizes divorce based on irreconcilable differences, but it also allows a spouse to seek a divorce based on the other spouse's fault.

Below, we answer common questions about the grounds for divorce, as well as other divorce-related issues in Illinois. For more information on marriage and divorce in Illinois, see our Illinois Divorce and Family Law page. You can find lots of articles on how divorce works in our Divorce Process area.

What are the grounds for divorce in Illinois?

Courts require the spouse who files for a divorce (the "petitioner") to have legal reasons for wanting a divorce. These legal reasons are called "grounds." In Illinois, there are two types of grounds: (1) fault (in which you claim that your spouse's misconduct or problems caused the marriage to fail), and (2) irreconcilable differences.

What are the fault grounds for getting a divorce in Illinois?

There are ten fault grounds listed under the Illinois statute. They are:

  • impotence
  • bigamy
  • adultery
  • willful desertion (for at least one year)
  • habitual drunkenness (for at least two years)
  • excessive use of addictive drugs (for at least two years)
  • an attempt to kill the other spouse by poison or other means showing malice
  • extreme and repeated physical or mental cruelty
  • conviction of a felony or other infamous crime, or
  • infecting the other spouse with a sexually transmitted disease.

Does fault affect the court's decisions about alimony, property division, or child support?

No. Even if fault is proven in court to establish grounds for divorce, it is not considered when determining issues of property division or awards of maintenance (alimony). In other words, marital misconduct is irrelevant for the most part.

What constitute irreconcilable differences?

Most couples who divorce in Illinois claim to have irreconcilable differences. This is the closest thing to a "no fault" divorce. To rely on this ground, the petitioner must tell the court that irreconcilable differences have caused the irretrievable breakdown of your marriage and that future efforts at reconciliation are impracticable and not in the best interest of your family. Ordinarily, the couple must have been separated for at least two years to claim irreconcilable differences. However, if both spouses sign a waiver, they can file for divorce after only six months of living separately.

Are there any residency requirements I have to meet in order to obtain a divorce in Illinois?

Yes. You or your spouse must have been an Illinois resident for at least 90 days before filing your divorce case (e.g., filing the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage). As noted above, if you rely on irreconcilable differences as the ground for your divorce, you must have been living separate and apart from each other for two years (or six months, if both spouses agree to waive the two-year requirement).

Do I really need an attorney?

You aren't legally required to hire an attorney, but it makes good sense in most cases to have an attorney represent your interests. Issues arising out of marriage tend to be complex and the divorce procedure can be overwhelming. If you do not understand the general principals of divorce law or the procedures in Illinois, going through a divorce without an attorney can be quite daunting. An attorney is particularly recommended if your spouse hires an attorney, children are involved, you want maintenance (alimony), your spouse is non-cooperative, spousal or child abuse has taken place, or you feel that your are overwhelmed with the divorce procedure.

In addition to giving me a divorce, what other things can the judge do for me?

In addition to granting you a divorce, the judge can also make the following orders:

  • grant custody of your minor children
  • set a visitation schedule for the non-custodial parent
  • set the amount of child support
  • divide marital property
  • divide responsibility for marital debt, and
  • order one spouse to pay maintenance (also known as "alimony" or "spousal support") to the other spouse

How long will it take to get a divorce?

The quickest you can expect to obtain your divorce is approximately three or four months. If your case is contested (that is, you and your spouse cannot come to agreement on all issues), it may take a year or more to finalize your divorce. These are rough estimates, though. Many factors can cause delays in finalizing your divorce, such as:

  • difficulty notifying your spouse about the divorce (for example, because the sheriff or private process server has difficulty delivering the summons and petition to your spouse)
  • the vehemence of the spouses' feelings and their inclination to settle
  • whether or not your spouse has decided to take part in the case and fight over issues as to custody, support, division of property
  • the court's calendar, and
  • the other attorney. Your attorney has no control over the other attorney's schedule and personality. An extremely busy or uncompromising opposing counsel can prolong your divorce, no matter how your attorney proceeds.

By far, the most common factor that prolongs divorce actions are the intensity of the parties' feelings and the degree to which the parties want to fight. Try not to get your heart set on being divorced by a certain date because divorce can be unpredictable. Instead, focus on working with your attorney to make sure you are taking all the necessary steps.

How much will it cost?

It is difficult to estimate the total cost of a divorce because of the factors mentioned above. However, one thing can be said for sure: If you allow your emotions to take over, the divorce process will be long, drawn out, and expensive. Remember, going to trial is almost always more expensive than settling your case.

How much of my time will be required?

You must spend time preparing your lawsuit. Your attorney will prepare your case, but only with your help. Attorneys sell their time, so if you can do some of the groundwork, your money can be used more efficiently.

Even if you reach an agreement with your soon-to-be ex, it will take some time to work through all the issues (property division, who will be responsible for debts, child custody and support, and so on) and negotiate a deal you both can live with.

How can I ease the emotional pain?

Divorce is one of life's most painful experiences. Your emotions will likely be on a roller coaster. Sometimes, both spouses are equally ready to move on. More often, however, one spouse is more invested in the marriage than the other -- and more hurt by its demise. That is one reason to consider counseling. Counseling can help you ameliorate the pain, accept the end of the marriage, learn coping skills, and pick up the pieces of your life and move on. If you don’t know where to begin, your attorney may be able to recommend qualified counselors. Your friends, relatives, or health care practitioner may also provide you some good leads.

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