Illinois Divorce FAQ

Answers to common questions about the divorce process in Illinois, including how much it costs, how long it takes, and how to get help.

By , Attorney (Tulane Law School)

Getting divorced can be a daunting process. There are emotional and practical changes that come with ending your marriage—plus you'll need to navigate the legal system. And you may have concerns about money or your children. Find answers to your questions about divorce laws in Illinois, and how to get the help you need.

Who may file for divorce in Illinois?

In order to get a divorce in Illinois, you and your spouse must meet the state's residency requirements. This generally means that one or both of you must have lived in Illinois for at least 90 days just before you filed the divorce papers. (750 Ill. Comp. Stat § 5/401(a) (2023).)

Note that same-sex couples have the same legal rights in divorce as opposite-sex couples. But same-sex divorce sometimes involves extra complications, particularly for couples who lived together before same-sex marriage was legal.

Is Illinois a no-fault divorce state?

As in all states, you need a legal reason ("ground") for divorce. Illinois is a pure "no-fault" divorce state. This means that when you file for divorce, you can't claim (and don't have to prove) that your spouse was responsible for ending your marriage through some misconduct.

The only ground for divorce in Illinois is that you and your spouse have "irreconcilable differences" that have led to the "irretrievable breakdown" of your marriage. Essentially, this means you and your spouse can no longer get along and won't be able to reconcile. You might have to convince the judge this is the case, if you haven't been separated for a certain period of time (more on that below). (750 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/401(a) (2023).)

Does Illinois require separation before divorce?

Illinois doesn't require that couples separate before they can get divorced. But if you and your spouse have lived separate and apart for at least six months in the period just before your divorce is final, the law presumes that the two of you have irreconcilable differences (for the purpose of the divorce ground discussed above). Without a separation, you may still get your final divorce if the judge finds that your attempts at reconciliation have failed, or that any future attempts wouldn't be practical and wouldn't be in your family's best interests. (750 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/401(a), (a-5) (2023).)

If you're thinking of separating, you'll want to consider whether you should move out of the family home during your divorce.

You also have the option to file for legal separation in Illinois. A judge will issue a separation judgment resolving any issues you can't agree on, like property division, child custody, or child support. Although the legal process is similar to divorce, neither spouse is free to remarry after a legal separation. (750 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/402 (2023).)

How much does divorce cost in Illinois?

When you file for divorce in Illinois, you'll need to pay the court filing fees unless you apply and qualify for a waiver. Filing fees in Illinois vary by county, so you'll need to contact the circuit court clerk in your county to find the applicable fees. As one example, the filing fees for a dissolution of marriage in Lake County are $334 (as of May 2023), but that amount is subject to change. You may also have to pay a fee to have your spouse served with divorce papers.

Beyond the filing fee, the cost of divorce will depend on the specifics of your case, especially:

How long will it take to get divorced in Illinois?

Unlike some states, Illinois doesn't have a mandatory waiting period before you can get your final divorce.

As with cost, the amount of time your divorce will take depends on the circumstances in your case. With an uncontested divorce, it could take a couple of months to schedule the final hearing (more on that below).

If your divorce is contested, you'll have to go through a number of legal steps that can add several months to the process. And if you and your spouse aren't able to reach a settlement agreement at some point in the process (more on that below), going to trial will require even more time—usually more than a year. Court backlogs can also make the entire process take longer.

How is marital property divided in Illinois?

Divorcing couples are often anxious to know who gets to keep the house or how the judge will divide up their savings or retirement accounts.

Like the vast majority of states, Illinois follows an "equitable distribution" approach to dividing marital property. A judge will consider all relevant factors and divide the marital property in a way that's equitable, or fair, but not necessarily equal. These factors include the length of the marriage, the economic circumstances, the age and health of the spouses, and any child custody arrangements.

Generally speaking, "marital property" includes most assets and debts a couple acquires during marriage. Your property is considered separate if you owned it before you married or acquired it during the marriage by gift or inheritance.

How is child custody decided in Illinois?

Decisions about child custody in Illinois are based on the children's best interests. When deciding what would be best for the kids, judges must consider a variety of factors, including the children's relationships with their parents and siblings, the parents' and children's physical and mental health, and the children's adjustment to their home, school, and community. A judge may also consider custody preferences of a child who demonstrates the "maturity and ability to express reasoned and independent" opinions on the issue. (750 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/602.5(c) (2023).)

What are the child support guidelines in Illinois?

Like all states in the U.S., Illinois has guidelines that include detailed rules for deciding who must pay child support and how much those payments should be. Learn all about how child support is calculated in Illinois, including when support amounts may depart from the guideline.

How does alimony (or maintenance) work in Illinois?

As part of the divorce, a judge may order one spouse to pay alimony (known as "maintenance" in Illinois). Before ordering maintenance after the divorce, the judge must consider a long list of specific circumstances in the case. (750 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/504 (2023).)

Judges have more leeway when they're deciding whether to award temporary maintenance during the divorce proceedings, based mostly on whether one spouse needs the support and the other one can pay it.

Can we agree to an out-of-court settlement in our Illinois divorce?

Yes, you and your spouse may agree about how to handle the issues in your divorce at any point during the process, from before you've filed the divorce papers right up to just before a trial.

Before you can finalize your uncontested divorce, you and your spouse will need to attend a final divorce hearing, known in Illinois as a "prove-up." At the prove-up, you will present a judge with a proposed "Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage," a court order that will include the provisions in your divorce settlement agreement. If the judge is convinced that you meet the legal requirements for an uncontested divorce and approves your agreement, the judge will sign the final divorce judgment. Your divorce will then be final.

Can we get a simplified divorce in Illinois?

Yes, if you qualify. Illinois offers a streamlined divorce process known as a "joint simplified dissolution," which can save both spouses even more time and money than a regular uncontested divorce. To qualify for a joint simplified divorce in Illinois, you and your spouse must meet a long list of requirements. Among other things, the two of you must:

  • have reached agreement on all issues
  • have been married less than eight years
  • not have any children together
  • meet limits on the types and amount of property that you own, as well as income limits, and
  • agree to waive alimony.

(750 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/452 (2023).)

What happens if we can't agree on a divorce settlement?

If you aren't able to agree with your spouse about any of the legal issues involved in ending your marriage, you'll need to go to trial to have a judge resolve the disputes for you. Anytime you need a trial, your divorce will take longer and cost more. So you're almost always better off if you can to come to a settlement agreement that's fair for both you and your ex.

When can I get an annulment in Illinois?

In Illinois, you can request a "judgment of invalidity" of your marriage, which is essentially the same as an annulment. You'll need to convince a judge that you meet one of the narrow grounds for a judgment of invalidity, which include mental or physical incapacity, coercion, bigamy, incest, and impotence. Learn more about annulment in Illinois, including the allowable reasons, the legal process, and the effects of annulling a marriage.

Where can I get more information and help with my Illinois divorce?

Illinois Court Help is a guide published by the Illinois courts that offers self-help resources, including information on filling out court forms and finding a lawyer. Illinois Legal Aid is another good source of information about getting divorced in Illinois.

Here are some other ways to get help:

  • Mediation: If you want the cost-and-time advantages of an uncontested divorce but are having trouble agreeing with your spouse about all of the issues, divorce mediation in Illinois can help you find solutions and common ground. At the end of the process, the mediator will typically prepare a written document that reflects any agreements you've reached.
  • Online divorce: If you've reached a complete settlement (either on your own or in mediation), but you need more help with the uncontested divorce forms than you can get through the court, you might try an online divorce service that will provide you with the completed forms, based on your answers to a questionnaire.
  • Legal representation: Of course, there are some divorces that require a lawyer's help. If that's true in your case, here are some questions to ask before hiring a divorce attorney.