Divorce is an unfortunate reality that affects many couples in Illinois. While couples who get married usually intend to stay together for the rest of their lives, a marriage can fall apart for a variety of reasons. In some cases, disagreements about money or other issues can result in the end of a relationship, while in others, a couple may have children and find that they are unable to put enough energy toward their relationship while also managing parental responsibilities. Even if a couple has the best intentions, they may find that they simply are not compatible. Regardless of the reasons for the end of a marriage, there are certain steps that will need to be followed during the divorce process, and understanding these procedures can help anyone in this situation navigate through a divorce successfully.
When approaching the divorce process, it can be difficult to separate one’s emotions from the legal, financial, and practical issues that will need to be addressed. The stress involved in ending a relationship that was meant to be permanent, dividing money and property, making adjustments to living arrangements and schedules, and ironing out all of the legal details of dissolving a marriage can be hard enough on its own. However, this process can become even more difficult when also dealing with sadness, anger, betrayal, guilt, or other emotional issues. For parents, adding the many child-related issues that will need to be addressed on top of everything else can make things even more difficult. With everything that will need to be considered, the divorce process can seem like a series of obstacles that may be nearly impossible to surmount.
Fortunately, if you are in this situation, you do not have to go through the divorce process alone. With the right divorce lawyer on your side, you can understand the legal concerns that will affect you and the methods you and your spouse may be able to use to resolve disputes and reach agreements. At [[title]], we understand the difficulties you are facing, and we are here to guide you through the divorce process, sharing our knowledge and providing valuable advice while also representing you in negotiations and court proceedings and working to help you achieve the best possible outcome in your case. We will walk you through each step of an Illinois divorce, including:
Preparing to File for Divorce
The divorce process officially begins when one spouse files a divorce petition in their local county court. However, in many cases, couples begin the process of separating from each other prior to initiating a legal divorce case. If you are considering divorce or planning to file a divorce petition, it is important to understand the steps you may want to take to protect your rights and interests.
Since issues related to property and finances will be some of the most important factors in your divorce, it is a good idea to gather as much information as possible about your family’s finances. Copies of bank account and credit card statements will help you determine how much money you have saved and how much debt you owe. Other financial records, such as pay stubs and tax returns, can establish the income you and your spouse earn. While you may begin taking steps to separate your finances from your spouse, such as by opening a separate bank account where you will deposit your paychecks, you should avoid any attempts to conceal money, property, or financial information from your spouse, since this could lead to legal issues during the divorce process.
If you are thinking about moving out of your family home, you may want to wait to do so until you have begun the divorce process, or even until your divorce has been finalized. If you no longer live in the home, this may give your spouse a stronger ownership claim over this valuable piece of property, making it more difficult for you to negotiate a favorable property settlement. Living away from your children could also affect decisions about child custody due to the fact that you will be less involved in their daily lives.
Filing a Divorce Petition
Once you are ready to proceed with legally ending your marriage, either you or your spouse can file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. This petition can be filed in the circuit court of the county where either party lives. You must have lived in the state of Illinois for at least 90 days before filing for divorce, and you will usually also be required to live in the county where your divorce petition was filed for 90 days.
A divorce petition will state that a spouse is seeking to dissolve their marriage due to “irreconcilable differences.” While Illinois law previously allowed spouses to state reasons they wished to get divorced (known as “grounds for divorce”), it now only recognizes irreconcilable differences as a valid grounds for divorce. This means that a spouse will assert that their marriage has broken down beyond repair, that all attempts to fix the relationship have failed, and that it would not be in the best interests of the spouses or other family members to attempt to reconcile. By avoiding fault-based grounds for divorce that lay the blame for the failure of the marriage on one party, the law is meant to help spouses move forward as they separate their lives rather than focusing on the past.
After a divorce petition is filed, it will then be served to the other spouse. This is typically done by a process server, who will provide the spouse with a written copy of the petition and have them sign a statement saying that they received it. The other spouse will then have 30 days to file a response. They may simply file a court appearance acknowledging that they received the divorce petition, or they may file a response or counter-petition answering the issues raised in the petition filed by the other spouse.
A divorce petition will include some requests for relief. A response or counter-petition filed by the respondent may also include these types of requests, which will address certain issues that will be handled during the divorce process. For example, you or your spouse may request to maintain possession of certain pieces of property, or either of you may ask for the other party to pay financial support to ensure that you will be able to meet your needs during the divorce process. Issues related to child custody may also be addressed, and you or your spouse may request that schedules be put in place to determine where your children will live during the divorce process and when they will spend time with each parent.
After a divorce petition and response are filed, an initial hearing will be held where a judge will address the requests for relief and make decisions about how matters will be handled during the divorce process. Orders for temporary relief will then be issued, and they may remain in place until the divorce has been finalized. If the respondent fails to file a court appearance or response and does not appear at this hearing, the judge may issue a default judgment and grant the petitioner’s requests for relief.
Once the divorce process begins in earnest, you and your spouse will exchange information with each other to ensure that you have a complete understanding of your financial situation, the property you own, the debts you owe, and any other issues that will need to be addressed in order to legally dissolve your marriage. Your attorney can help you determine what methods to use to gain information and how to respond to requests from your spouse and their lawyer.
Some common methods of gaining information during discovery include interrogatories (requests to answer questions about financial issues or other details), admissions of fact (requests to confirm certain pieces of information), and requests for production of financial documents or other information. In some cases, depositions may be performed in which you or your spouse will answer questions under oath, or subpoenas may be used to request information from other parties, such as financial institutions.
Most of the time, you and your spouse will be encouraged to work together to negotiate agreements on all issues related to your divorce. These negotiations may be performed through conversations, in-person meetings, or communication between the two of you and your attorneys. Mediation can also be a beneficial method of reaching agreements, and it will allow you and your spouse to work together with a neutral mediator to address your outstanding issues and create a settlement that you can both agree on. Collaborative divorce may be another option in which you, your spouse, and your attorneys agree to be as open and honest as possible as you work to negotiate agreements amicably without the need to handle issues in court.
As you negotiate a divorce settlement, you will need to address issues such as:
Property division – All marital property you own will need to be divided between you and your spouse. Illinois law states that property should be divided fairly and equitably, but a 50/50 split is not required. If you own complex assets such as a family business, retirement benefits, or trusts and estates, you may need assistance from financial experts to ensure that you understand the benefits and drawbacks of owning different assets, the tax consequences of your decisions, and the best ways to protect the financial interests of both parties.
Spousal support – If you have relied on your spouse’s income to provide for your family’s financial needs and will be unable to fully support yourself, you may ask to receive ongoing payments from your spouse following your divorce. On the other hand, if you have been your family’s primary income earner, your spouse may be asking you to provide them with financial assistance. Support paid by one spouse to the other, which is also known as spousal maintenance, may be awarded based on several factors, including the amount of time you were married, the income earned by each party, the earning capacity for a person who is currently unemployed or is working part-time, and the standard of living that was established during the marriage.
Child custody – If you and your spouse share children, your divorce decree will need to include a parenting plan that fully details how you will share custody. This will include legal custody, which is referred to in Illinois law as the “allocation of parental responsibilities,” and physical custody, which may also be known as visitation or parenting time. Depending on how parenting time is divided, you may either pay or receive child support to ensure that your children’s ongoing needs will be met.
Once a settlement has been created, you and your spouse will appear in court for a “prove-up” hearing in which you will present the settlement to the judge. If the judge has no problems with the settlement, a divorce decree will be issued, and your marriage will be legally dissolved.
If there are any issues that cannot be resolved through negotiations, your divorce case may proceed to trial. This is often a last resort, and since trials can be time-consuming and expensive, judges will often encourage spouses to resolve matters through negotiations or mediation whenever possible.
If a trial will be necessary, your attorney and your spouse’s attorney will meet with the judge in a pre-trial conference to discuss the issues that will need to be addressed. The judge may offer some suggestions on how the outstanding issues may be resolved. If agreements still cannot be reached, a trial will then be held.
During the trial, each party will make arguments and present evidence. They may also call and question witnesses, and the other side will have the opportunity to cross-examine these witnesses. After reviewing all information presented during the trial, the judge will make final decisions about all outstanding issues, and a divorce judgment will be issued.
Contact Our DuPage County Divorce Lawyers
At [[title]], we strive to provide our clients with effective representation from the beginning to the end of the divorce process. We can provide guidance on how you will be affected by Illinois’ divorce laws, the steps you can take to protect your rights, and the best options for resolving disputes with your spouse. To learn more about how we can help you complete your divorce successfully, contact our Elmhurst divorce attorneys at [[phone]] and arrange a consultation.