DIVORCE IN CHICAGO
In Illinois, divorcing couples can cite no-fault or fault grounds for divorce. Continue reading for information about the difference between these two kinds of divorce, and about the cost, rules, and overall process of divorce in Chicago and Illinois.
How Much Does Divorce Cost in Chicago?
The cost of divorce varies widely depending on the specific circumstances of each case. Divorce costs typically include:
- court costs
- attorney’s fees
- mediator’s fees, and/or
- fees for divorce experts, such as custody evaluators, appraisers, and CPA’s or other tax experts.
If you have a simple divorce, with no assets or debts, no minor children, and no alimony—or spousal maintenance as it’s called in Illinois—your total cost will likely be on the low end. But if you have a complex case, with significant property and debt, young children, and maintenance your divorce will take more time and money to complete. Finally, if you and your spouse disagree on any of your divorce-related issues and end up hiring attorneys or going to trial, your overall costs and legal fees will increase substantially.
The average cost of a divorce in Illinois is $13,800, with a range from $4,000 all the way up to $30,000. The average cost of a divorce with children in Illinois is higher—at $20,700.
Attorney’s fees represent the largest part of total divorce costs. Divorce lawyers charge by the hour, and their hourly rate depends both on their experience and location. The average hourly rate for attorneys in Illinois is $260, but that figure is undoubtedly higher in the Chicago metropolitan area. So a Chicago divorce will likely cost more than one in a rural area of Illinois.
What Is the Divorce Process?
In Illinois, divorce is referred to as a "dissolution of marriage." Generally, the first step is to file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with your local court. In the petition, you will include information about you, your spouse, and any minor children. You will also let the court know what sort of relief you’re requesting, such as shared custody or spousal maintenance. After your spouse receives a copy of the petition and files a response, called the Entry of Appearance, the case can move forward.
Spouses must exchange mandatory financial disclosures, with information about each spouse’s income, expenses, assets, and debts. In Illinois, these forms may include:
- Financial Affidavit and related forms
- Additional Debts and Liabilities form
- Additional Personal Property & Bank Accounts form, and
- Non-Marital Real Estate form.
Once financial information is exchanged, the couple can try to reach agreements on all divorce-related issues, including property division, spousal maintenance, child support, and child custody. Some couples can do this on their own, while others prefer to hire a mediator and/or individual attorneys to help them negotiate their terms and understand their legal rights and responsibilities.
If the spouses can resolve all of their issues without a trial, the next step is to memorialize their terms in a divorce settlement agreement. It’s best to ask individual attorneys to review the settlement document for fairness and accuracy. Once signed, the agreement is submitted to the court for review and the spouses must appear at a prove-up hearing, where they should be prepared to answer questions from the court about their agreement and supply any requested documents or information. If the court is satisfied with the settlement, the judge can issue the final divorce decree terminating the marriage.
If the spouses need more information, they can engage in formal divorce discovery, where they (or their attorneys) request information through document requests or subpoenas. If the couple can’t settle their disagreements, they’ll end up in court—at a hearing or going through a divorce trial—so the judge can make divorce-related decisions for them.
Divorce vs. Legal Separation
A legal separation is very similar to a divorce in that the spouses want to live separate and apart and will need to make decisions about child support, custody, maintenance, and property division. In Illinois, legal separation is also called separate maintenance. To start the process, one spouse will have to file a formal petition for separate maintenance with the local family law court. The petition must include information about each spouse, the date of the marriage, the date of separation, and whether there are minor children.
The grounds for legal separation in Illinois are that both spouses agree to the petition or that one person moved, and the spouses are now living separate and apart.
They couple may prepare a separation agreement for the court’s review and approval or they may end up in court asking a judge to decide any contested issues. The only difference is that at the end of the separate maintenance process, the spouses are still legally married to one another, and they can’t remarry unless and until they obtain a dissolution of marriage.
What Is an Uncontested Divorce?
Although the name varies from state to state, an uncontested divorce is one where both spouses agree on all the issues in their divorce case. In Illinois, couples can request a “joint simplified divorce” as long as they meet the following requirements:
- they have been married less than 8 years
- they have no minor children (biological or adopted)
- they don’t own any real estate
- the total value of their marital estate is less than $50,000
- the spouses make less than $30,000 each per year, or less than $60,000 combined
- their individual retirement benefits are less than $10,000
- they have resolved all issues in their divorce case, and
- neither spouse is asking for spousal maintenance.
There are specific forms available for a joint simplified divorce. You can look at the [Cook County joint simplified divorce forms](https://www.illinoislegalaid.org/legal-information/joint-simplified-divorce-cook-county) on the Illinois Legal Aid website for reference. Check your local court clerk’s office for more information.
No-Fault vs. Fault Divorce
Again, divorcing couples in Illinois can cite no-fault or fault grounds. In a no-fault divorce, you don’t have to prove that your spouse caused your marriage to end. Instead, you can simply state that you want a divorce because your marriage is "irretrievably broken."
For a no-fault divorce in Illinois, you or your spouse must have lived in the state for at least 90 days and lived separately from each other for at least two years. In Illinois, you don’t have to live in separate homes to meet this requirement, because many couples may not be able to afford two residences while their divorce is proceeding.
Alternatively, if both spouses can agree in writing that the marriage is irretrievably broken, the couple only needs to be separated for six months before filing for divorce.
In a fault divorce, the reason for the divorce becomes an important issue. One spouse will claim—and must prove—that the other spouse’s marital misconduct destroyed the marriage. Illinois recognizes the following fault grounds for divorce:
- abandonment for at least one year
- alcohol abuse or drug addiction for two years
- attempting to take the other person's life
- extreme physical or mental cruelty (domestic abuse)
- felony conviction, and
- infecting your spouse with an STD.
Fault divorces typically create more conflict, take longer, and cost more than no-fault divorces because you must prove all of your allegations in court. You should speak with a local family law attorney for advice and to find out if there is a benefit that outweighs the cost of filing for a fault divorce in your case.
How to File for Divorce in Chicago
Once you’ve determined which type of divorce you want to file, you’ll need to gather and complete the appropriate forms. You can find most divorce forms on the Illinois Supreme Court website.
Keep in mind that the county where you live may require additional or different forms. For example, the Cook County Circuit Court has links to Cook County divorce forms on its website. Check with your local circuit court clerk if you have questions about what forms are required in your county.
For further example, if you live in the Chicago area and will be filing in Cook County, you must file the following:
- Domestic Relations Cover Sheet
- Petition for Dissolution of Marriage (4 copies)
- Summons (4 copies)
- Affidavit of Service (unless the respondent spouse waives the notice requirement), and
- Certificate of Dissolution.
If you have minor children, you must also file the:
- Parenting Agreement
- Visitation Form (attached as an exhibit to the Parenting Agreement), and
- Uniform Order of Support (in child support cases).
If you have questions, contact a local divorce attorney for advice.
For more on divorce in Illinois, and questions asked in Chicago, see our free legal advice page.