Illinois Key Divorce Facts

Learn about the process for getting divorced in Illinois, including the reasons for divorce, how to file, and how much you’ll pay in court costs.

By , Attorney · UC Berkeley School of Law

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.

Residency Requirements for Divorce 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.

What Are the Grounds for Divorce in Illinois?

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:

  • it finds that irreconcilable differences have caused the breakdown of the marriage, and there's no hope of reconciliation, or
  • the parties live separate and apart for a continuous period of 6 or more months immediately before the entry of the divorce judgment.

(750 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/401 (2021).)

How Do I Get a Divorce in Illinois?

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.

How to Get an Uncontested Divorce in Illinois

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.

Illinois Joint Simplified Dissolution

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:

  • neither spouse is seeking maintenance
  • one or both of the spouses meet the residency requirements
  • the marriage is irreconcilably broken
  • no children were born of the marriage or adopted during the marriage, and neither spouse is pregnant by the other
  • the marriage lasted 8 or fewer years
  • neither spouse has an interest in real property or retirement benefits, unless the retirement benefits are exclusively held in individual retirement accounts and the combined value of the accounts is less than $10,000
  • the fair market value of all marital property (minus debts) is less than $50,000 and the combined gross annualized income from all sources is less than $60,000, and neither party has a gross annualized income in excess of $30,000
  • the parties have disclosed to each other all assets and liabilities and their tax returns for all years of marriage
  • the parties have a written agreement dividing all assets in excess of $100 in value and allocating responsibility for debts and liabilities between the parties, and
  • the parties have a written agreement allocating ownership of and responsibility for any pets.

(750 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/452 (2021).)

Divorce Filing Fees in Illinois

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.

Serving Your Spouse in Illinois

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:

  • Service of Summons and Petition. You can hire the sheriff in the county where your spouse lives to serve your spouse with the divorce documents. You'll pay the clerk the sheriff's fees when you file your divorce petition (or, if you have a fee waiver, you won't have to pay for service within Illinois). The sheriff can serve the documents on your spouse either in person or by mail. If the sheriff serves your spouse in person, the sheriff might file the proof of service with the court or mail it to you (in which case, you'll need to file it with the clerk). If you choose to have the sheriff mail the documents, you'll need to provide the sheriff with a self-addressed and stamped envelope for the sheriff to mail a return of service—proof that your spouse was served—to you.
  • Entry of Appearance. Your spouse can agree to waive service by filling out and filing an Entry of Appearance form.

How to Get a Contested Divorce in Illinois

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.

What to Expect in an Illinois Divorce

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.

Property Division in Illinois

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:

  • the contribution each spouse made in acquiring the property
  • whether either spouse wasted or needlessly spent marital property ("dissipation")
  • the value of property assigned to each spouse
  • how long the marriage lasted
  • each spouse's anticipated financial situation post-divorce
  • any obligations and rights a spouse has from another marriage
  • any prenuptial or postnuptial agreements
  • each spouse's age, health, skills, and occupation
  • the needs of each spouse
  • how custody is assigned
  • whether a spouse will be receiving spousal maintenance
  • each spouse's financial prospects, and
  • the tax consequences of the property division.

(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.

Spousal Support ("Maintenance") in Illinois

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:

  • the income and property of each spouse
  • each spouse's needs
  • the realistic present and future earning capacity of each spouse
  • whether present or future earning capacity of a spouse was negatively affected by that spouse devoting time to domestic duties or foregoing opportunities because of the marriage
  • any impairment to present or future earning capacity of the party against whom maintenance is sought
  • the time needed for the spouse seeking maintenance to become self-supporting
  • the effect of any parental responsibilities on a spouse's ability to seek or maintain employment
  • the standard of living during the marriage
  • how long the marriage lasted
  • each spouse's age, health, skills, and sources of income (among other factors)
  • tax consequences of maintenance
  • any valid agreements about maintenance, and
  • other factors that the court expressly finds to be just and equitable.

(750 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/504 (2021).)

See Illinois Alimony FAQs for more information.

Child Custody in Illinois

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:

  • decision-making (who makes decisions about the child's education, health, religion, extracurricular activities, and other important matters) and
  • parenting time.

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.

Child Support in Illinois

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:

  • the financial resources and needs of the child
  • the financial resources and needs of the parents
  • the standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the marriage not ended
  • the physical and emotional condition of the child, and
  • the child's educational needs.

(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.

Mediation as a Divorce Alternative

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.

Finalizing a Divorce in Illinois

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.

Other Resources for Filing a Divorce in Illinois

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