Divorce in Illinois: everything you Need to know

1 min readLast updated October 3, 2023by Charlie Barton

Planning a divorce in Illinois? Explore our comprehensive guide covering everything you need to know, from the reasons and types of divorce to the steps, costs, asset division, spousal support, and how it impacts your children.

What are the grounds for divorce in Illinois?

According to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, there are two grounds for divorce in Illinois – fault and no-fault. 

No-fault grounds in Illinois

The no-fault grounds, per 750 ILCS 5/401, allow for dissolution of marriage if irreconcilable differences have caused an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. In order to obtain a no-fault divorce, the spouses must have lived separate and apart for at least 6 continuous months before filing.

Fault grounds in Illinois

The fault grounds for divorce outlined in 750 ILCS 5/401 include impotence, adultery, and physical cruelty. Impotence refers to the permanent inability to perform sexual intercourse. The spouse filing for divorce on these grounds must prove the impotence existed at the time of the marriage. Adultery as grounds for divorce requires proof that one spouse engaged in sexual intercourse with someone outside of the marriage. Physical cruelty involves proof of physical acts like bodily harm or apprehension of bodily harm. All fault grounds require clear evidentiary standards to be met.

While the no-fault option of irreconcilable differences is by far the most common basis for divorce in Illinois today, the fault options remain legal grounds that can be pursued. However, it often requires extensive litigation to conclusively prove fault, making the separation-based no-fault option an easier path to dissolving a marriage in Illinois, as outlined in the dissolution of marriage statutes.

How to file for divorce in Illinois?

Filing for divorce in Illinois is a step-by-step process that starts with:

  1. Submitting paperwork to the court in the county where you or your spouse live. You'll need to fill out a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, stating the reasons you want a divorce like irreconcilable differences or separation. Don't forget to include all the details about any children, property, assets and debts too.

  2. This petition gets filed along with a Summons and Notice of Filing at the circuit clerk's office.

  3. Now comes the tricky part - you have to officially serve your spouse with copies of all these divorce papers. You can either hire someone to personally hand them the documents or publish a notice in the newspaper if you can't find your spouse.

Once served, your spouse has 30 days to respond by filing an Appearance and Answer. If they don't respond in time, you can ask the court for a default judgment. Eventually there will be a hearing where you prove your grounds for divorce. If everything checks out, the court will grant your request for dissolution of marriage and you'll get a final Judgment officially declaring you divorced according to Illinois law. Whew, that's a lot of paperwork and waiting around! But if you take it step-by-step, you'll get through the process.

Remember, divorce procedures can vary based on individual circumstances and local court rules. It's worth speaking to a qualified financial advisor to provide additional guidance throughout the process, match with an advisor here.

What is the cost of divorce in Illinois?

The cost of divorce in Illinois can really vary case by case. At a minimum, you'll have to pay the court filing fees just to get the process started. This includes things like a fee to file the petition, summons fee, and sheriff's fee to serve papers which could total $400 or more. If you hire a lawyer, get ready to pay a hefty price tag. Average divorce attorney fees in Illinois range from $250-$350 per hour. And if you have a complicated case with custody disputes or financial assets to divide up, you could rack up tens of thousands in legal fees over the course of the divorce!

Even an amicable divorce with no lawyer can cost around $1,000 in Illinois when you add up the filing fees and costs to serve your spouse. Costs pile up fast with mediation sessions, which run $200-$400 per hour typically. Don't forget extras like getting copies of records and court transcripts too. And if your case drags on, the expenses keep mounting. Make sure you budget properly at the start to realistically cover what your divorce will cost from start to finish.

How do you split up assets in Illinois?

When a marriage ends in Illinois, figuring out who gets what can be tricky. Illinois law starts with the idea that all marital property should be divided equitably between spouses. Marital property includes:

  • Houses

  • Cars

  • Bank accounts

  • Retirement funds

  • Businesses

  • Basically anything you acquired while married

The court will look at factors like income, custody arrangements, and how much each spouse contributed when dividing up the property. An equitable split doesn't necessarily mean 50-50. For example, a spouse who was the primary breadwinner may get a larger share.

You and your spouse can also agree to divide assets on your own in a marital settlement agreement, rather than leaving it up to the court. This allows you to make trades, like one spouse keeping the house while the other gets more retirement assets. No matter how you divide it up, the overall goal is a fair split considering each spouse's situation. Having a clear picture of all marital assets and liabilities upfront makes the division process smoother during an Illinois divorce.

How does alimony work in Illinois?

In Illinois, alimony or spousal maintenance can be awarded during a divorce to provide financial support for an ex-spouse. The court decides alimony on a case-by-case basis looking at factors like income levels, needs of each spouse, and the marital standard of living. There are a few different types of alimony in Illinois:

  • Temporary alimony - financial support during the divorce process

  • Rehabilitative alimony - short-term payments to help spouse become self-sufficient

  • Permanent alimony - indefinite payments to support ex-spouse long-term

The length of alimony depends on the case circumstances. Permanent alimony is less common today, as the goal is often getting the receiving spouse financial independence. However, ill or unemployed spouses may get indefinite alimony. Alimony usually ends if the receiving spouse remarries or either spouse dies. Overall, the court has discretion in awarding alimony during an Illinois divorce based on what is fair and will provide adequate spousal support.

What happens to children during a divorce in Illinois?

When parents split up, it's understandably a really tough time for kids. Going through a divorce in Illinois definitely impacts the whole family. The court wants to help make things a little easier on the children though. Custody is a big issue - where the kids primarily live, and who makes important decisions about their lives. Joint custody, splitting time between mom's and dad's houses, is pretty common if parents can cooperate even a little. The court looks at what's best for the kids when deciding custody.

Visitation allows the non-custodial parent to still spend regular time with the children. Supporting the relationships between kids and both parents is important during a divorce. Another big change is child support, with one parent helping financially. Parents have to take a class on minimizing divorce stress for kids. If parents fight over custody, the court may order family counseling or mediation. The goal is maintaining as much stability and normalcy as possible for the children. Addressing the legal issues sensitively makes the transition smoother.

How to protect your finances when going through a divorce in Illinois?

Going through a divorce can be a stressful and challenging time, especially when it comes to finances. You may have many questions and concerns about how to protect your assets, manage your debts, and plan for your future.

Here are some way you can protect your money when going through a divorce:

Organize your finances: before filing for divorce, gather all relevant financial information and documents, such as tax returns, bank statements, credit card bills, and retirement accounts. Make a list of all assets and liabilities, both marital and non-marital. This will help you and your spouse negotiate a fair distribution of property and debts.

Consider mediation: mediation is a process where you and your spouse work with a neutral third party to resolve issues related to your divorce, such as property division, alimony, child custody, and child support. Mediation can be less time-consuming, less expensive, and less stressful than going to court. It can also help you maintain a cooperative relationship with your spouse after the divorce.

Think about Social Security: if you have been married for at least 10 years, you may be eligible to receive Social Security benefits based on your ex-spouse’s record. This can provide valuable income during retirement, especially if your ex-spouse earned more than you. However, certain criteria must be met to qualify for this benefit.

Seek professional help: divorce can significantly impact your financial situation. Consider consulting with a financial advisor specializing in divorce to help you navigate these changes and plan for your future. A financial advisor can help you assess your current financial status, create a post-divorce budget, and develop a long-term financial plan that aligns with your needs and goals.

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Charlie Barton

Charlie Barton is a writer at Unbiased. He has been writing about personal finance and investing since 2017, with extensive knowledge of platforms and products. Charlie has a first-class degree from the London School of Economics.