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Illinois Divorce Checklist

woman returning a wedding ring to a man. concept of illinois divorce checklist

An Illinois divorce checklist should include items such as attorney consults, strategies for taking care of yourself mentally, emotionally, and financially, and an overview of the issues you care about the most and those with which you are willing to be more flexible. Divorce in DuPage County is rarely easy, even for friendly splits, so talking with a lawyer is one of the best ways to help you prepare and customize a checklist for your situation.

woman returning a wedding ring to a man. concept of illinois divorce checklist

What Are the Grounds for Divorce in Illinois?

Illinois recognizes only irreconcilable differences as grounds for divorce. That generally means the spouses’ attempts at reconciliation have not been productive, and or any further attempts would not be in the family’s best interest. This type of divorce amounts to “no-fault.”

In 2016, state lawmakers eliminated the ability for people to file a divorce based on fault. No-fault divorces are simpler and less combative than fault-based divorces, even if previously typical “fault” situations such as cheating, addiction, gambling, or parenting differences are at play.

Preparing for a Divorce

What to do before filing for a divorce is not always clear, nor is what to do if you’ve been served with divorce papers.

One essential element is to talk with a divorce attorney. Rather, speak with several and get their opinions on your case. They tend to offer consultations, and you are under no obligation to hire one.

That said, hiring a divorce attorney can be a good move. Divorce lawyers can greatly expedite your divorce and advocate for your best interests. They can also answer questions with your situation in mind, for example, if you are interested in how to get a divorce fast. Talk with a few and see which one you feel matches your needs best.

Divorce lawyers can answer your questions, reassure you that what you are feeling is normal, and give you tips on how to handle the divorce. To use your time most efficiently, have any questions to ask ready and be honest about the issues. The more information the lawyers have, the more accurately and effectively they can assist you.

An Illinois divorce checklist helps you prepare, too. Your lawyer should be able to give you a customized outline for your situation. In general, crucial elements to list include these:

  • A plan for taking care of yourself financially, mentally, and emotionally (friends, relatives, hobbies, etc.)
  • An outline of the issues you care about passionately or foresee disagreement in (could be property division, child custody, spousal maintenance, or something else)
  • A list of your assets and debts (and your spouse’s, if possible) with the pertinent documents
  • Actions your lawyer may have advised you to take, such as opening a new checking account and credit card in your name
  • Financial paperwork such as tax returns, pay stubs, bank statements, deeds, car registrations, and so on (ask your lawyer about what to do if you cannot access your spouse’s paperwork)
  • A general overview of the process from your lawyer (for example, filing forms to submit, proof of service, and a prove-up hearing if the divorce is uncontested)

If you have been served with divorce papers, the steps on your Illinois divorce checklist are basically the same. If you have not yet consulted with a lawyer, now is a great time to do so. It is risky to do nothing or to basically “ignore” being served. Doing so could potentially result in your spouse getting everything for which he or she asks.

Important Steps in an Illinois Divorce

Perhaps the most important step shows up nowhere in the Illinois divorce requirements. That’s because it is the step in which the parties agree a divorce is necessary and what type of divorce it will be (or one serves the other by surprise). When possible, it is best to avoid surprises.

Being served with divorce papers out of the blue can set the stage for an emotional, contentious, and contested divorce. Your lawyer can advise you on how to proceed as far as discussing (or not discussing) divorce with your spouse. There are many situations such as those involving domestic violence or manipulation in which it may be best or safer to not communicate about a split beforehand.

The parties get a good feel early on about whether the divorce can be uncontested. In uncontested divorces, the spouses work together (or in parallel) to avoid a costly and drawn-out split that involves a trial. Uncontested divorces are better for productive co-parenting relationships after the split. Of course, they are not always appropriate or possible, such as in cases of abuse.

A key step is for the parties to discuss the issues and see where they stand. They don’t have to talk directly with each other or alone, just the two of them. Lawyers and mediators are two great ways to facilitate productive discussions.

Contested Divorce Steps

In a DuPage County contested divorce, common steps include the discovery phase and negotiation and settlement talks. In discovery, the parties collect information and documents related to the issues under contention.

The parties also submit interrogatories and take sworn statements. The court may order the parties to try to negotiate or settle, or they may decide for themselves to try to do that before having to go through a trial. If this step is not productive, then pretrial hearings and motions, and finally, a trial, are among the next steps. A contested divorce takes quite a bit longer than an uncontested split. Timelines of six months, a year, or even several years are not uncommon in contested breakups.

The judge rules on the issues on which the spouses do not agree. The spouses are required to follow what the judge says, and both may come away from the trial deeply unhappy and angry at each other. A contested divorce requires, to some degree, the spouses giving up some of their ability to compromise or make decisions that could benefit both of them.

Uncontested Divorce Steps

The steps for an uncontested divorce in Illinois can vary depending on the complexity of the issues and how close the parties are to an agreement. For example, in a simple divorce, negotiation may not be needed, and the parties might know from the beginning what they want.

Generally, though, the petitioner files for divorce, and the respondent gets served. The parties work together or with their lawyers on a marital settlement agreement and other paperwork for a judge to approve.

Illinois Prove-Up Checklist

A prove-up hearing is one of the last steps in an uncontested divorce proceeding. The petitioner appears before a judge to complete the divorce case, and the respondent can also appear.

Prove-up hearings are required in Illinois, and the judge must review certain documents to ensure fairness and legality before issuing the final divorce decree. There are three general types of prove-up hearings, One is if the divorce is by agreement of the parties, while the second type relates to personal jurisdiction or substitute service (if the respondent spouse never filed an answer or appearance in the divorce case). The third type has to do with a default divorce with service by publication (such as if the respondent spouse’s whereabouts are not known).

Depending on the judge and your circumstances, the checklist for prove-up documents in your case may include the following:

  • Qualified Illinois Domestic Relations Order for government benefits
  • A certificate of completion for a parenting class
  • The marital settlement agreement
  • The allocation judgment of parental responsibilities and parenting plan
  • Petition for Dissolution of Marriage/Civil Union
  • Uniform Order of Support (if child support is ordered)

If you have a divorce attorney, this person will probably take care of all of these documents.

Do I Need a Lawyer for a Divorce in DuPage County?

Everyone seeking a divorce in DuPage County should at least consult with a lawyer, and many divorcing spouses are best served with a lawyer advocating for them the entire time.

Consultations with a divorce attorney typically are free, so there’s nothing to lose. You can learn what lawyers have to say about your case and proceed accordingly. Lawyers are beneficial even in friendly and uncontested divorces and can help you prepare an Illinois divorce checklist.

They also check whether you are perhaps making rash or uninformed decisions out of anger, guilt, shame, or even happiness. Decisions made during divorce can have repercussions for a lifetime and are worth serious consideration. Lawyers advocate for your interests and can identify solutions where you might not have seen any.

Lawyers also help speed up both the contested and uncontested divorce process. They know what paperwork to file, where, and when. In contested divorces, they are vital for steps such as preparation, discovery, pretrial, and trial. They can help uncover assets your spouse may be hiding and can question witnesses at trial.

Uncontested divorce lawyer Denise Erlich is passionate about helping divorcing couples in the greater Chicagoland area transition to their new life as seamlessly as possible. Ms. Erlich patiently guides her clients through every step of the divorce process and provides clients with candid advice about their case and legal options, so they can make informed decisions about their future.

Years of Experience: More than 20 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: Illinois State Bar Association U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois
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