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No More Grounds for Divorce in Illinois. What this Means for Divorcing Couples

Questionnaire about family law

Effective January 1, 2016, there will be significant changes to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA). The laws that govern marriage, divorce and child custody (parental responsibility) in the state have undergone a huge overhaul, and one notable change is an update to establishing grounds for divorce.

Questionnaire about family law

The Old Laws

Up to this point, Illinois law has required that divorcing parties establish grounds for their divorce. These grounds ranged from adultery, desertion, impotency and bigamy to drunkenness, drug addiction and mental cruelty. Though a no-fault option of “irreconcilable differences” could be claimed, it was far from the only ground available for divorcing spouses.

The concept behind establishing grounds was that there was an “innocent” and “guilty” party when it comes to divorce. Though either party could file for a divorce, many lawmakers found the grounds-based system antiquated, leading to the updates. Fault is not used when determining how property is divided or child custody (parental responsibility) is determined in Illinois, so proving grounds has little impact on the outcome of divorce proceedings.

In recent years, successive changes to the Illinois marriage laws due regarding civil unions and same-sex marriages have led to major changes to the IMDMA. The law has not been modified this significantly since the mid-1990s, and before that, in the 1970s. For many, the elimination of the requirement for establishing grounds is a logical progression, which will not have a serious impact on future divorces in Illinois, but this does represent a notable change to the law.

The Reasons Behind the Changes

A majority of the divorces filed in Illinois today list irreconcilable differences as grounds. This being the case, those who pushed for change cited the idea that men and women were not viewed as equal in the establishment of what many view as outdated grounds.

Proving fault-based grounds could turn out to be extraordinarily difficult, and so irreconcilable differences has truly become the default grounds. The current law, set to expire at the end of December, also requires parties to show that they have been living apart for a minimum of two years, and that efforts to reconcile differences have been unsuccessful. This waiting period, which is required in order for the court to find that a divorce is, indeed, no-fault, represents one of the most significant changes to the law, regarding grounds.

The New Laws

The new Illinois law will no longer require divorcing couples to live separately and apart in order to obtain a no-fault divorce. The law will, however, allow parties who have lived apart for at least six months to use this period of separation to prove that they have irreconcilable differences. In other words, the waiting period has been eliminated entirely for couples in uncontested divorces, and reduced significantly in cases where divorce is contested.

The new law also reframes the grounds of “irreconcilable differences,” which will now be referred to as “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.” The updated law simply states that to obtain a divorce, parties must show that their irretrievable breakdown was caused by irreconcilable differences and that any attempts to reconcile would not be in the best interest of the family or either party.

Additional Changes to Illinois Divorce Laws in 2016

The 2016 changes to Illinois divorce law extend beyond establishing grounds. One meaningful change involves child custody (parental responsibility). The terms “custody” and “visitation” have now been eliminated from the law, and are replaced by “parental responsibilities” and “parenting time.” The responsibilities of parenting are now broken down into specific categories such as health, education and religion.

Changes to the law also affect parents who plan to relocate. Parents in some counties may relocate up to 25 miles from their homes, without permission from the court, while others may move up to 50 miles away.

Other changes to the law are of a financial nature. Child support issues, such as college tuition payment will be impacted. How courts value assets will also be changed. If the marital and non-marital assets are highly complex, the court can seek assistance from an expert, and both parties can cross-examine this expert at a shared cost.

Finally, the cap for a low-cost joint divorce has been raised. This fast-track option, which was once only open to couples making $30,000 a year or lower, has now been raised to $60,000, opening up this possibility to many more divorcing couples.

The 2016 changes to the Illinois divorce law are extensive, and many divorcing couples can find themselves confused about the updates to the laws, and how they will affect their divorce proceedings. Divorce attorneys in Joliet, and across Illinois, are monitoring these changes closely so that they can prepare divorcing couples for their upcoming proceedings.

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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