Every state has its own rules and procedures for divorce. Here's what you need to know about getting a divorce (also called a "dissolution of marriage") in Illinois.
As long as you follow the state's marriage license rules, you can get married in any state—even if you don't live there. The requirements for ending a marriage, though, are not as relaxed. Instead, 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 for a minimum of 90 days before filing. (750 Ill. Comp. Stat § 5/401(a) (2021).)
The purpose of state residency requirements is to prevent one spouse from moving to another state to "shop" for a court or judge that will view the case more favorably for that spouse. Residency requirements also prevent one spouse from filing in a location far from the other just to make it more difficult (and expensive) for the other spouse to respond and participate.
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 do not have to have your spouse's consent to end the marriage.
An Illinois court will grant a divorce when:
(750 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/401 (2021).)
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 spousal support. A contested divorce, on the other hand, is one where the spouses can't agree and must ask a court to decide the issues in their divorce.
Uncontested divorces are generally faster and less expensive than contested divorces because there's no fighting in court—all the judge must do is review and approve the spouses' marital settlement agreement and issue a divorce decree.
Illinois' circuit courts are the courts that hear and finalize divorces.
If you and your spouse agree on the terms of your divorce, the next step is to file the required paperwork in the appropriate court. You'll need to file:
These are the basic forms to get started with your divorce in Illinois; depending on your situation you might have to file additional forms. Read the forms and their instructions carefully.
Although you can hire an attorney to help you file an uncontested divorce in Illinois, many people decide to represent themselves. If you need assistance but can't afford to hire a lawyer, you might be able to use an online divorce service or seek advice from legal aid.
Couples who agree on all the issues in their divorce and who meet certain requirements may file for an expedited form of divorce called "joint simplified dissolution." To qualify for a joint simplified dissolution, the following must apply:
(750 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/452 (2021).)
Like most legal proceedings, you must 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 clerk to find out the fees where you will 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.
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:
To start a contested divorce, you will file a petition for divorce with the court. Many of the documents you'll need for a contested divorce are the same as those required for an uncontested divorce. Whatever issues you and your spouse don't agree on will be decided by the judge. 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, you'll have to request one).
After 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, the court will alert you when the judge has made a decision.
Although you can represent yourself in your divorce, many people involved in a contested divorce choose to hire a lawyer to help them navigate the court system and present their case to the court.
It can take from six months to two years to finalize a contested divorce in Illinois.
Unlike some states, Illinois doesn't have a "waiting period" between when you file your divorce and when the court can start processing it. Instead, an Illinois court can begin processing your case as soon as the time has passed for your spouse to file a response to the petition (usually 30 days).
Most Illinois judges will schedule a hearing in court for both uncontested and contested divorces. The judge might also schedule hearings on any motions (requests) you or your spouse file.
Here are some of the issues a judge will address in your divorce.
Illinois is an equitable division state, which means the court will divide marital property and debt fairly—but not necessarily equally.
First, the judge will determine whether property is martial or non-marital property. Judges presume that all property acquired by either spouse after the marriage is marital property, so it's up to the spouses to prove that something is non-marital property.
Next, the judge will divide marital property in "just proportions." Judges don't consider a spouse's bad behavior in distributing property. Instead, to figure out a just way of dividing property, Illinois judges consider:
(750 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/503 (2021).) Overall, Illinois judges have a lot of discretion in deciding how to divide assets and debts between divorcing spouses.
See Illinois Divorce: Dividing Property for more details.
Illinois judges can award spousal support ("maintenance") for an amount of time that the court considers "just" and without regarding marital conduct. In deciding whether maintenance is appropriate, Illinois judges will consider all relevant factors, including:
(750 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/504 (2021).)
See Illinois Alimony FAQs for more information.
Like all states, Illinois courts begin with a presumption that it's best for a child to have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after a divorce. Illinois law refers to child custody as "parental responsibilities."
Illinois judges decide the allocation of:
Decisions about these issues are based on the judge's assessment of what is in the child's best interests. (750 Ill. Comp. Stat. §§ 5/602.5 and 5/602.7 (2021).)
Illinois law allows judges to consider whether to award one or both of the parents the right of first refusal to provide child care. This means that if one of the parents intends to leave the child with a care-provider for a significant amount of time, that parent must first offer the other parent the opportunity to personally care for the child. (750 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/602.3 (2021).)
For more details about child custody in Illinois, see Illinois Child Custody Law and Illinois Child Custody and Support FAQs. Illinois Legal Aid Online also has comprehensive information on its child custody site.
Illinois requires both parents to support their children after divorce. Illinois courts use the state's child support guidelines to evaluate how much support a parent must pay. Child support payments are not affected by the parents' behavior during marriage. Instead, the court will consider factors such as:
(750 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/505 (2021).) You can use the Illinois Legal Aid Online's child support tool to get an estimate of any child support award in your case. For more details, see Child Support in Illinois.
Not all divorces need to be drawn out battles in the courtroom. Instead of hurrying to the courthouse to file for divorce when you have unresolved issues, mediation might be a less contentious and cheaper way to divorce.
Divorcing spouses can choose to mediate on their own with a private mediator. Some states' laws require divorcing spouses to attempt mediation while a divorce is pending in court. This is known as "court-ordered mediation." Illinois courts must order parents to mediate when they can't agree on formulating a parenting plan. (750 Ill. Comp. Stat. §5/602.10(c) (2021).)
In mediation, both spouses meet with a trained and neutral third party called a "mediator." Mediation sessions are confidential, and each spouse will have the opportunity to list their issues and suggest resolutions. The mediator will not make any decisions in the case—rather, a mediator's job is to guide the negotiations in a way that will help the spouses settle their divorce without court intervention.
If you agree on some or all of the issues during the mediation, the mediator can draft a divorce settlement agreement for you to present to the court. Any remaining issues that you and your spouse can't agree on will be decided by the court. Even if you're able to agree on one or two issues, mediation is usually much less expensive than going through a complete divorce trial, and can help you and your spouse create a foundation for continuing communication after your divorce.
The judge will finalize a dissolution of marriage within 60 days of the final hearing (although the judge can request an extra 30 days if needed). A judge's final order is called a "judgment of dissolution of marriage."
If desired by a spouse, the judgment will contain a provision authorizing the spouse to resume the use of a former or maiden name. So long as this provision is in the judgment, the spouse doesn't have to file a separate petition for a name change. (750 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/413 (2021).)
To get a certified copy of your final divorce decree, contact the clerk of the court that granted the divorce. If you need a divorce certificate (to verify the facts of a dissolution), you can contact the Illinois Department of Public Health, Division of Vital Records.