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Your Chicago Divorce: The Basics

Divorce is never easy. Knowing that you’ll have to deal with things like child custody, dividing real estate, and possibly dividing your retirement account can be daunting. Even spouses who divorce on the best of terms sometimes have a difficult time throughout the divorce proceedings.

Here, we’ll discuss general information about the divorce process in Chicago, Illinois. We’ll explain the grounds for divorce, property division, and alimony. We’ll also describe the legal process for child custody, child support, and your parenting plan.

If you still have questions about a Chicago divorce, contact a local experienced divorce lawyer.

Legal Requirements for Divorce in Chicago

Every state has laws that govern the legal requirements for divorce. You must meet these requirements to file your petition for divorce. Illinois is no different.

According to Illinois law, you must meet the following legal requirements to file for divorce:

  • Residency requirement - Either you or your spouse must live in Illinois for at least 90 days before filing for divorce.
  • Irreconcilable Differences - You must prove that you and your spouse face irreconcilable differences such that the marriage is irretrievably broken. Separation of six months makes a strong, but rebuttable, case that the marriage is over.

The court clerk will dismiss your divorce petition if you don’t meet these basic requirements. This will delay the divorce process and increase costs. This is one of the reasons why you should seek legal advice before filing any papers with the court.

Types of Divorce in Chicago, Illinois

Before you file your divorce papers, you must decide which type of divorce you’ll file. The two main types are uncontested and contested divorce. The primary difference between the two is that in an uncontested divorce, both spouses agree to both the divorce itself and the terms of the divorce.

With a contested divorce, the parties disagree on divorce terms, the divorce itself, or both. If the respondent spouse refuses to consent to the divorce, you will file a contested divorce. 

Often parties in an uncontested divorce enter into a settlement agreement. According to the divorce laws in Illinois, the parties to a divorce must address the following issues in their marital settlement agreement:

  • Child custody
  • Child support
  • Allocation of parental responsibilities
  • Alimony/Spousal Support (Maintenance)
  • Division of marital property and liabilities

Your divorce attorney will negotiate these issues with your spouse’s lawyer. If you and your spouse disagree on these terms, the judge will schedule a trial. Your attorney will continue negotiating between the time the judge sets a trial date and the actual trial.

Very few divorce cases go to trial. Illinois law offers many opportunities for divorcing couples to mediate their case.

How To File for Divorce in Chicago

First, you must understand how to file your petition for dissolution of marriage. If you do online research, you may think it’s an easy process. However, even an uncontested divorce can be complex.

Once you decide to file for divorce, you must file your petition for dissolution with the county court. You must also pay the requisite filing fee. These fees vary from county to county. You can apply for a fee waiver if you cannot afford the fee.

You must include the following documents when you submit your petition:

  • Petition for dissolution of marriage
  • Financial Affidavit
  • Proof of service
  • Summons
  • Certification of agreement
  • Parenting plan
  • Uniform Order of Support (Child Support)

Your spouse must file their response to your petition within 30 days. If they don’t respond, your attorney can ask the judge to grant a default judgment of divorce.

Grounds for Divorce

In Chicago, the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act governs divorce. According to this law, the only grounds for divorce are irreconcilable differences. Irreconcilable differences mean the marriage is broken, and there is no way to salvage it. You do not have to cite traditional grounds for divorce, such as adultery or abandonment.

Division of Property

Before the judge finalizes your divorce, you must submit a settlement agreement. This agreement must address the division of marital property and include a breakdown of how you intend to allocate your matrimonial debts.

In Illinois, any property the parties acquire after the wedding and before legal separation is marital property. Non-marital property is the property you acquire before the marriage. It also includes any property you purchase or receive after legal separation.

The non-marital property belongs to the spouse who acquired it. The judge will divide marital property according to the factors in Part 5 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act.

These factors include:

  • Parties’ contribution to the marital property
  • Value of the property
  • Duration of the marriage
  • Financial circumstances of each spouse
  • Prenuptial agreements, if any exist
  • Custody of children
  • Future income potential of each spouse
  • Tax consequences of dividing the property

The family courts do not consider spousal misconduct during equitable distribution. It’s also possible for the judge to divide the property unequally. For example, one spouse may receive the marital home while the other gets a rental property of lesser value.

Spousal Support - Maintenance

The Chicago courts refer to alimony as maintenance. The judge handling your case may order you or your spouse to pay spousal maintenance. This maintenance can be temporary or permanent.

Courts consider several factors when determining maintenance. These include:

  • Both spouses' income and income potential
  • Financial needs of each party
  • Standard of living during the marriage
  • Length of the marriage
  • Physical and mental condition of the spouses
  • Tax consequences
  • Agreement between the spouses
  • Child support obligations

The court may consider any other factors it deems reasonable.

Child Custody

One of the most significant issues that divorcing couples with children face is who gets the kids. In Chicago and the rest of Illinois, it's not always clear. One clear thing is that the judge will consider the best interests of the child when making their decision.

The court will consider the following factors when determining child custody:

  • Wishes of the parents
  • Relationship a parent has with the children
  • Ties the children have to the community where they are already living
  • Physical and mental health of the child and custodians
  • History or threat of abuse or domestic violence by a parent
  • Child's wishes, depending on maturity level

The court will only consider the child’s wishes once they reach a specific age. This age may vary.

Illinois requires that parents take a court-appointed parenting education program. There are only two programs the Circuit Court of Cook County acknowledges. One is online, and the other is in-person. The court may require a parent to attend the in-person program.

Child Support

You and your spouse must decide on child support if you have children. In some cases, the parties agree on a fixed amount. In most cases, however, the attorneys and the judge will refer to Illinois’ child support guidelines.

These guidelines dictate that child support will range from 20% to 50% of the paying spouse's income. The amount will depend on the number of minor children. Courts have the right to modify the amount of child support using factors similar to those for spousal support.

Getting Divorced in the Second City? An Attorney Can Help

Divorces are often emotional and challenging times. The law is not always straightforward. An experienced local family law attorney can help. They’ll work on the legal side of things so you can focus on moving forward after the divorce.

Visit’s attorney directory to find a divorce lawyer near you.

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  • Divorces are tough and a lawyer can seek the best outcome
  • A lawyer can help protect your children's interests
  • Divorce lawyers can secure alimony, visitation rights, and property division

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