How to File For Divorce in Illinois (2022 Step by Step Guide)

What’s in this guide

  1. What’s in this guide
  2. Eligibility
  3. Grounds for divorce
  4. The divorce process in Illinois
  5. Spousal Maintenance
  6. Child Custody
  7. Child Support
  8. Property Division
  9. Simplified Divorce Process
  10. Temporary Orders: help while your divorce is in progress
  11. How do I find help?
  12. Other Guides & Articles
  13. State Divorce Procedures
  14. Divorce Forms
  15. Our most popular guides

We’ve also reviewed online divorce services that can streamline the process

  1. 3StepDivorce ($299)
  2. Complete Case ($299)
  3. MyDivorcePapers.com ($139)

Eligibility

You can get a divorce in Illinois if you or your spouse are Illinois residents or are in the military and are stationed in Illinois.

You must live in Illinois for at least 90 days prior to the divorce being granted – you can file for divorce sooner. (Source: 750 ILCS 5/401(a))

Grounds for divorce

Illinois is a no-fault state. The only grounds for divorce is “irreconcilable differences” – you attest that you and your spouse have tried to work things out but you just can’t. (750 ILCS 5/401(a))

If you’ve already lived apart for six months or more, then the law considers that “an irrebuttable presumption” of irreconcilable differences.

Living apart for six months is not required, and there is no “waiting period” to get a divorce in Illinois.

The divorce process in Illinois

The process for getting a divorce in Illinois depends on:

  • If you know where your spouse is
  • If you have kids
  • If you and your spouse agree on all issues or not
  • How you want to work out any disagreements (mediation, collaborative divorce, or litigation)

Forms & documents

Forms

Illinois’ court system provides all the forms with how-to-fill-them-out guides on its website.

e-filing

All forms should be filed electronically unless you don’t have regular access to a computer. The court lets you e-file via their system or you can pay a company that integrates with the Illinois court filing system. The court provides a list of approved e-filing companies here.

Form-filling tools

If you don’t have children, the court offers an online tool for filling out the petition for divorce. Note that you will need to fill out all the other forms yourself.

Another tool is available through Illinois Legal Aid Online, which will generate all necessary forms when you complete its detailed questionnaire. Illinois Legal Aid Online is a court-recognized non-profit that helps Illinois residents with all sorts of legal processes.

Additionally, there are a variety of online services that will guide you through the entire divorce process including filling out the forms.

File for divorce

First, you file a petition for divorce and notify your spouse. You must file for divorce in either your county or the county your spouse lives in. Illinois provides a list of which courts serve which counties here.

Then your spouse responds to the summons. If they don’t file an Appearance with the court, which is their acknowledgement of the legal proceeding, you will have to serve your spouse. You can do that personally or pay a fee to the Sheriff in your spouse’s county to serve them.

If you don’t know where your spouse lives, you will have to try to serve them and, if that fails, move to have the divorce go forward with your spouse, the respondent, “in default”. When the respondent has been served but doesn’t appear in court, the court will hear the petitioner’s side of the case and then make a judgement. (750 ILCS 5/405)

In other words, if you try but fail to serve your spouse the court can grant you a divorce anyway.

Negotiate the major issues with your spouse

Next, you decide on how you want to divorce. If you and your spouse agree on all issues and don’t have any complicated-to-divide property, then you can represent yourself and simply fill out and file all the required forms with the court.

This is true even if you have children, though children will require you to agree on a parenting plan and take a court-approved divorce education course.

You must out all the forms, including financial affidavits and, if necessary, include a parenting plan. Submit those documents to the judge so they can grant your divorce.

If you and your spouse don’t agree on all the issues, then you will have what’s known as a contested divorce. You have four options.

  • Try to work through disagreements with your spouse yourselves.
  • Work with a mediator – and courts will often require a couple to try mediation if they have kids and are unable to come to a complete agreement.
  • Each hire attorneys who will represent you in an effort to reach a settlement or go to trial.
  • Each hire attorneys and sign a Collaborative Divorce agreement, which is a binding agreement that structures a process for hashing out issues during divorce.

Going to trial is the most expensive and time-consuming option. Most divorces do not go to trial, including most divorces where each spouse hires an attorney. A trial is the last resort.

The major issues that you and your spouse need to sort out are:

  • Dividing the marital debts and property, including retirement benefits – i.e. who gets what?
  • Agreeing on spousal support, if applicable and desired
  • Child custody, including a parenting plan
  • Child support, though this is usually calculated according to guidelines described by Illinois state law and implemented by Illinois Dept. of Health and Family Services (HFS).
  • Any other issues, such as who keeps pets

Finalize your divorce

Then, you go to court in person to finalize your divorce at a brief hearing. If you need to have a trial, that will take more time.

Spousal Maintenance

Also known as alimony or spousal support, spousal maintenance is when one spouse makes regular payments to the other spouse after the divorce.

How much maintenance you pay or receive depends on:

  • Each person’s property and income
  • Each person’s needs, taking into account age, health, skills, liabilities and sources of income
  • The earning potential of each person
  • Any sacrifice in current or future earning ability of the person seeking maintenance as a result of forgoing a career to take care of kids or other marital responsibilities
  • Ditto for the person who would pay
  • How long it would take the person seeking support to gain the training or skills to become employable and self sufficient
  • Whether parent responsibilities would affect someone’s ability to get a job
  • The standard of living during the marriage
  • How long the marriage lasted
  • Income
  • Tax consequences
  • Any agreement between the couple
  • Anything else that the court deems relevant

How long you pay or receive spousal maintenance depends on how long the marriage lasted and will be decided by the court unless you come to a separate agreement with your spouse.

Child Custody

All decisions regarding child custody hinge on what’s in the child’s best interests.

You can look at child custody as consisting of two categories of rights and responsibilities.

Decision Rights

Parents have the right to make major decisions for children about education, health – mental, dental and psychological, religion, and extracurricular activities. (750 ILCS 5/602.5)

Unless the parents can come to an agreement on their own, the court is required to allocate decision-making rights.

Some of the factors informing a court’s decision include:

  1. What the child wants, taking into account their maturity and ability to make thoughtful, independent decisions
  2. The child’s adjustment to their home, school and community
  3. The mental and physical health of parents and child
  4. The ability of parents to cooperate and their wishes
  5. The needs of the child
  6. How far apart the parents live, the child’s daily schedule, etc.
  7. How willing each parent is to facilitate a close relationship between the child and the other parent
  8. Any violence or abuse by one parent against the child and whether one parent is a sex offender

Day-to-day decision-making rights belong to the parent taking care of the child.

Parenting Time

Like with decision rights, the court will decide parenting time unless the parents can reach an agreement on their own. The court will presume both parents are able to care for the child unless there’s a lot of evidence to the contrary. (750 ILCS 5/602.7)

The court will consider similar factors as it does for decision rights, with the addition of:

  1. How much time each parent spent caring for the child in the two years prior to the divorce
  2. The willingness of each parent to place the child’s needs ahead of their own
  3. Whether either parent is in the military and, if so, the terms of their military family-care plan before deployment

If you are not granted rights to make significant decisions, you are still presumed to be “entitled to reasonable parenting time”. (750 ILCS 5/602.8)

Parenting Plan

A parenting plan describes how you and your spouse will care for your child after the divorce is granted.

If you can’t agree on a plan, the court may assign a mediator to help you. If you still can’t agree on a parenting plan, the court will decide on parenting time and other issues, taking into account separate parenting plans that you and your spouse submit to the court. (750 ILCS 5/602.10)

A parenting plan must cover:

  • The allocation of decision-making responsibilities
  • Where the child will live when, including on holidays
  • Each parent’s rights to access the child’s medical, dental, school, etc. records
  • A requirement that each parent notifies the other at least 60 days in advance of moving
  • A requirement that each parent notifies the other in event of emergencies, travel, or other significant child-related issues
  • Transportation arrangements between parents
  • Provisions for communicating with the child during the other parent’s parenting time
  • Provisions for how the parenting plan may be modified

The Illinois court provides a form that can be the starting point for a parenting plan.

More details about Illinois Child Custody

Read our guide on Illinois Child Custody for even more information about how the process works, how courts make decisions, and dealing with violations of the parenting plan after your divorce is finalized.

We’ve reviewed the best online divorce services

Child Support

If you want your child to receive child support, you need to file a motion with the court. For the purposes of child support, a child needs to be under 18 years old or under 19 and still in high school. (750 ILCS 5/505(a))

The amount of child support is based on two charts set by Illinois HFS. First, the amount of child support is determined by how many children there are and the parents’ combined income.

Then, what each parent owes by default is a function of their net income. The parent who earns more after taxes will pay more of the child support obligation.

Illinois provides a worksheet for calculating child support and an interactive calculator.

There are additional expenses that parents must jointly cover, such as healthcare. If it’s financially reasonable for you, the court may require you to get health insurance for your child if they aren’t already insured. Or, the court may require you to apply for public health insurance.

If you have a job that pays on an unpredictable schedule, for example if you work for yourself, the court may be willing to work with you to set up a child support schedule that makes sense.

If you are unemployed or under-employed, the court may require you to try to get a job.

Property Division

If you and your spouse can come to an agreement about how to divide your marital property, the court just needs to approve that agreement.

If you can’t agree on how to divide your marital property, the court will split it up “in just proportions” and “without regard to marital misconduct” (750 ILCS 5/503(d)). If your spouse cheated on you, that won’t affect the division of your marital property.

That raises two questions. First, what is “marital” and “non-marital” property?

Marital vs. non-marital property

Marital property is essentially all property you acquired while the marriage lasted, including while the divorce is happening. It doesn’t matter whose name the title for an asset is in. Your name could be on the title of a car, but as long as you acquired it after getting married it is joint marital property.

Non-marital property includes (750 ILCS 5/503(d)):

  • Gifts or inheritance, or property received in exchange
  • Property received in exchange for property from before the marriage
  • Property acquired by one spouse after a judgement of legal separation
  • Property acquired by a loan collateralized entirely by non-marital property
  • Increases in value of non-marital property
  • Income from non-marital property that isn’t due to effort of either spouse

Retirement benefits of all kinds or employee stock options are presumed to be marital property.

“Just proportions”

The second question is about what factors determine what “just proportions” means for a couple.

Courts will take into account:

  • Each spouse’s contribution (including as a homemaker)
  • The value of the property assigned to each spouse
  • How long the marriage was
  • The economic circumstances of each spouse when the divorce is happening, including whether it’s better to give the house or other residence to the spouse that has primary residence of the kids
  • Prenuptial or post-nuptial agreements
  • Age, health, and ability to earn a living
  • Whether property division is in lieu or in addition to maintenance
  • Tax consequences

If certain assets are difficult to assign a value to, the court may assign an expert to determine how much those assets are worth (750 ILCS 5/503(l)).

Simplified Divorce Process

Illinois offers a faster, simpler divorce option.

Some couples are eligible for Illinois’ simplified divorce process (750 ILCS 5/452). You must meet the following requirements:

  • All eligibility requirements mentioned above
  • Each person is willing to waive the right to spousal support
  • There are no children from this relationship
  • You have been married eight years or less
  • You don’t own real estate or have retirement benefits (unless those benefits are held entirely separately and valued less than $10,000)
  • The total value of all your and your spouse’s property is less than $50,000
  • Your combined income is less than $60,000 and neither person earns more than $30,000
  • Each person discloses all financial assets, liabilities and tax returns to the other
  • You have a written agreement allocating ownership of any pets

Temporary Orders: help while your divorce is in progress

Temporary Orders are issued by the court while the divorce is in progress and expire when the divorce is granted (750 ILCS 5/501).

If you need child support, spousal support, or are worried about your spouse hurting you or your children you can file a petition for the court to grant temporary orders.

How do I find help?

Lawyers

The Illinois Bar Association and Chicago Bar Association provide online directories of lawyers.

Mediators

You can find mediators online at Mediate.com.

Free legal aid

Illinois Legal Aid Online provides access to attorneys for Illinois residents who can’t afford an attorney on their own.

Sometimes you need a little more advice from experts or you just need some help on figuring out how to deal with your emotions during divorce. Don’t worry, our blog strives to be a helpful resource for filing an online divorce, marriage, finances, child custody, alimony, emotions, child support, legal separation, military divorce and much more.

Woman reading divorce guide on her tablet.

State Divorce Procedures

Figure out the divorce process in your state without the hassle of browsing through complicated government sites or spending hours browsing multiple sites.

We have collected and written down the divorce process for all 50 states to help you reduce the stress of finding the needed steps to file a divorce in your state.

Divorce Forms

Each state has a different set of divorce forms and paperwork that’s needed to properly complete your filling. There are hundreds of forums on the web that are either updated and will waste a lot of your time by getting your divorce papers rejected by your local city clerk.

Man filling out divorce forms
  1. How to File For Divorce Online
  2. Legal Terms for Getting a Divorce
  3. Child Custody 101
  4. Child Support Laws 101
  5. Alimony/Spousal Support 101
  6. Marriage Annulments 101: Qualifying, Types & More
  7. Military parents and child custody
  8. Divorce FAQ
  9. Who Gets What in a Divorce?
  10. Divorce Mediators
  11. The Ultimate Guide To a Quick & Cheap Divorce
  12. Our Family Wizard review

We’ve reviewed the best online divorce services