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