What comes to mind when you think of divorce? Do you, perhaps, picture a couple arguing angrily with one another—raised voices, irritated gestures, and all of that? Or maybe you imagine a courtroom scene like you see in the movies. Dark, elegant woodwork and a judge on a raised dais serving as the referee while the two sides argue and make their points, only in this scenario, it is the lawyers doing most of the talking. While both of these examples could certainly be present in a divorce, they are both essentially snapshots of a moment in time during a divorce. In reality, divorce can be a long and complicated process, and if you are considering ending your marriage, you should know what might lie ahead.
Getting the Process Started: The Divorce Petition
If you or your spouse has lived in Illinois for at least the last 90 days, you meet the residency requirements to file for a divorce in Illinois. This is the case regardless of where you lived previously or where your marriage took place. The divorce process in Illinois formally begins when one spouse files a Petition for the Dissolution of Marriage, more commonly known as a divorce petition. Informally, however, you and your spouse can begin the divorce process long before either of you files anything. If you and your spouse are still able to be civil to one another, you might be able to work out most of the divorce-related concerns before the formal proceedings begin. This can shorten the divorce process dramatically and eliminate a great deal of the stress and bitterness that are often involved.
The spouse who files the divorce petition is known as the Petitioner. The Petitioner is expected to file the petition with the clerk of courts in the county where at least of the spouses resides, but exceptions can be made if there are good reasons for doing so. Illinois is a “pure no-fault” divorce state, which means that all divorces are granted on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. There are no “fault” divorces in Illinois, and there have not been since 2016. The divorce petition, therefore, must state that irreconcilable differences have pushed your marriage to the point where reconciliation is not possible. When filing the petition, the Petitioner can also include requests for considerations such as a share of the couple’s marital property, spousal support, and parenting responsibilities, depending on the couple’s specific circumstances.
After the petition is filed, the non-filing spouse—called the Respondent—will be served a copy of the filing. The Respondent will then have 30 days to file a response to the allegations and requests made in the petition. If the Respondent does not respond or at least file an appearance, the court could enter a default judgment of divorce in favor of the Petitioner.
Temporary Custody and Support Orders
Among the things that the Petitioner can ask for are temporary orders for spousal maintenance, child support, and parental responsibilities. Illinois law allows the court to issue these types of orders to help one spouse or the couple’s children while the proceedings are underway. Temporary orders are also meant to be just that: temporary. You can expect them to be vacated or replaced with permanent orders when the divorce is finalized, but only after the matters are explored in greater detail during the proceedings.
Discovery and the Exchange of Information
Before your divorce can go any further, you and your spouse will be required to exchange any information that is likely to be pertinent to the case. This includes, at a minimum, a full and accurate disclosure of your financial situation and that of your spouse. If the two of you plan to complete the divorce process quickly, the information exchange phase—called “discovery”—will probably be quick and fairly easy, especially if you prepared ahead of time. If things are more contentious, you might need to answer some questions in writing—known as “interrogatories”—and provide copies of a variety of documents and records to your spouse, usually through your attorneys. Discovery is an extremely important part of the divorce process because the information exchanged during discovery is what the court will use to make decisions about your marital assets, spousal support, and other issues related to money.
If you and your spouse have children together, you will be expected to draft a proposal for how you will share the responsibilities of raising them. Child custody is formally called the allocation of parental responsibilities, and sharing parental responsibilities requires a written parenting plan under Illinois law. You can develop a proposed parenting plan on your own, or you and your spouse can work together on one. By law, your plan needs to include a description of how you will share parental responsibilities, a parenting time schedule, and a host of other details. If you and your spouse cannot reach an agreement on the issue of shared parenting, you may be ordered to participate in mediation before the matter will be heard by the judge.
Heading to Trial
The overwhelming majority of divorce cases in the United States, including Illinois, are resolved by negotiated settlements. At any point during the process, you and your spouse—and your attorneys—can negotiate and propose agreements. In fact, you are expressly encouraged by Illinois law to reach a settlement if you can. If you and your spouse agree to a settlement, most of the steps that remain can be eliminated. Your settlement must equitable, and it must comply with all of the relevant state laws, or the court could reject it.
If reaching an agreement proves to be impossible, your case will go to trial. During the trial, you and your spouse will have the same opportunities to present your positions to the judge. As you might expect, this is usually handled by your lawyers. Your attorneys can introduce evidence, make arguments, and even call witnesses. It will then be up to the judge to decide on the issues that you and your spouse have not already put to rest.
Work With a Qualified Attorney
The divorce process can be extremely challenging, not to mention time-consuming. Trying to manage your divorce on your own could have disastrous results, as even a seemingly minor mistake could end up costing you thousands of dollars or hundreds of wasted hours. Instead, you should enlist the help of an experienced DuPage County divorce attorney. Your lawyer will provide the guidance and assistance you need to begin building your happier, healthier future.