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How to File For Divorce in Illinois

Divorce is the process of legally dissolving a marriage or civil union. In Illinois, there are 6.6 divorces out of every 1,000 women aged 15 and above. The divorce process can be complicated, and it can take a long time, depending on the factors at play. Divorce in Illinois can either be contested or uncontested. In an uncontested divorce, both parties are in agreement about the grounds for divorce and the terms. The parties agree on matters like child custody, asset division, and alimony. Uncontested divorces are typically finalized quicker and involve less legal costs.

Contested divorces, on the other hand, are often drawn out and complicated. In a contested divorce, the parties cannot agree on the grounds and terms for the divorce.

In Illinois, it takes a minimum of 180 days to finalize a divorce. Parties in an uncontested divorce may choose to go through the process without an attorney; however, parties must understand the court's requirements and procedures. If other conditions are met, such persons may also qualify for a Joint Simplified Divorce. To qualify, the parties must:

  • Have been married for less than eight years
  • Have no children together or be pregnant at the time of filing
  • Have no assets worth more than $50,000 together
  • Not depend on each other for support or agree to waive support

Illinois Circuit Courts handle divorces.

Do I need a Reason for Divorce in Illinois?

Illinois is a no-fault divorce state. Under the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, the court may grant a divorce on no-fault grounds or "irreconcilable differences." If a judge agrees that the marriage is irretrievably broken, reconciliatory efforts have failed, and future reconciliation may not work, a divorce will be granted. Separation is also grounds for divorce in Illinois. If a couple has lived apart for no less than six consecutive months, it is assumed that the grounds for "irreconcilable differences" have been met.

Illinois has a residency requirement; to qualify for a divorce, at least one of the parties in the marriage must have lived in Illinois for 90 days before filing for divorce.

The records contained in documents related to family court include both marriage and divorce records. Both types of records contain information that is considered very personal to the parties involved, and it is recommended that those parties maintain these records with care in order to make changes in the future. The personal nature of these records results in both being considerably more difficult to find and obtain when compared to other types of public records. In many cases, these records are not available through either government sources or third party public record websites.

Why do I need a Divorce Lawyer?

Generally, divorce lawyers offer services that simplify the divorce process. Hiring a lawyer can be helpful, and in a contested divorce, it is necessary. Lawyers work with the expertise of the state's laws, which may not be common knowledge or easy for others to interpret. Apart from representing clients at divorce hearings or trials, lawyers offer legal guidance on the divorce process and create personalized strategies for each case. Lawyers help with the valuation of shared assets and liabilities, and where it is required or ordered by the court, mediation.

Lawyers also ensure that all documentation is filled and filed according to the court's requirements. Lawyers draft documentation and provide the forms that need to be filled. These include documents such as parenting and asset division agreements. When the forms and documentation are completed and signed, lawyers submit the forms to the court on the clients' behalf.

Though hiring a lawyer can be expensive, an attorney's efforts can save time. In an uncontested divorce, both parties may use one lawyer to draft agreements. Contracting an attorney significantly reduces the cost of legal services.

How do I Get Started in a Divorce in Illinois?

The divorce process begins when the filing party, otherwise known as the plaintiff, files a Petition for the Dissolution of Marriage. The form filled will depend on whether the marriage was one with children or without children. The purpose of this form is to request that a judge grant an order to dissolve a marriage or civil union. The plaintiff may file the petition at the Circuit Court in the county where the parties reside or where the spouse resides.

The plaintiff will be required to provide information about the length of the marriage, marital and non-marital assets, children, and other financial information. The plaintiff will also be required to pay a filing fee to file the petition, which is about $300. Persons who cannot afford the filing fee may apply to the court for a fee waiver. If the waiver is granted, it could mean that the plaintiff will pay some or none of the fees. The waiver is valid for one year.

The plaintiff must file the petition electronically with the Clerk of the Circuit Court unless the plaintiff are exempt from electronic filing. Exempted persons must submit a completed Certificate of Exemption from E-filing to the Clerk of the Circuit Court in person. Persons exempted from electronic filing include:

  • Prison or jail inmates who do not have divorce attorneys
  • Persons with disabilities that make it difficult to file electronically
  • Persons who have difficulty speaking or reading in English
  • Persons who do not have access to computers 

The plaintiff is expected to file the petition by creating an account with an electronic filing service provider. Once the petition is filed, the plaintiff must notify the spouse of the filing. If the spouse signs an Entry of Appearance, the Circuit Clerk will schedule a court date, and a summons will not be required. If the spouse does not sign an Entry of Appearance, the plaintiff may have the party notified by serving a Summons and Petition.

The Sheriff will serve the court-issued summons in the county where the petition was filed. A private process server can also serve the summons. The plaintiff can make the request in person or by mail. After the summons has been served, the spouse must respond and file an appearance with the Circuit Clerk within 30 days. If there is no response 30 days after the spouse has been served, the plaintiff may be issued a court date without the spouse's intervention.

How to File for Divorce in Illinois Without a Lawyer?

It is possible to file for a divorce in Illinois without a lawyer. Persons who choose not to be represented by an attorney are "Pro Se" litigants. Pro Se means that the party will represent themselves in court. Pro Se litigants will be required to go through the same processes as those who have lawyers. However, forms and other resources available may differ slightly. For example, a separate form is required for a Pro Se appearance. Circuit Court Clerks provide the needed information and resources.

Opting for a Joint Simplified Divorce is another way to file for a divorce without a lawyer. Parties who agree on the details and terms of the divorce and who meet the legal requirements may choose to follow this process. The party or parties will only have to appear in court for the final hearing. Couples who prefer a Joint Simplified Divorce process will waive the right to alimony or spousal support.

A third way to file for divorce without a lawyer is through mediation. Couples may choose to work with divorce mediators to reach an agreement about custody, alimony, and asset division.

Divorce and marriage records may be available through government sources and organizations, though their availability cannot be guaranteed. This is also true of their availability through third-party websites and companies, as these organizations are not government-sponsored and record availability may vary further. Finally, marriage and divorce records are considered extremely private due to the information they contain, and are often sealed. Bearing these factors in mind, record availability for these types of records cannot be guaranteed.

How Does Illinois Divorce Mediation Work?

Divorce mediation is a process wherein a neutral third party facilitates a divorce agreement between the two parties through communication and negotiation. A mediator helps the parties come to agreements regarding child support, child custody or parenting plan, alimony, and asset division. Mediation is conducted out of court.

A mediator can be a lawyer or a layperson; however, laypersons cannot offer legal advice. Under the Illinois Uniform Mediation Act, mediation proceedings are confidential. Agreements received from mediation must be submitted as a court order to legalize the process.

Mediation can either be initiated by parties in the divorce or by the court. In voluntary mediation, parties may choose a mediator and begin the process before filing a divorce petition. Parties may also select mediation at any other point in the divorce process. In contested divorce cases involving visitation and child custody issues, Illinois courts typically order mediation. In court-ordered mediation, the court provides a mediator. However, if there is a threat of violence or concerns about one of the parties' mental competence, the judge may keep both parties out of mediation. Also, in cases where one party has a restraining order against the other party, mediation will not be considered an option.

Some of the benefits of mediation include:

  • Confidentiality: mediation proceedings are confidential.
  • Less legal costs: it does not cost as much as retaining a lawyer for a divorce, and fees are typically split between the parties.
  • It saves time: mediation helps parties in the divorce process agree about divorce details quicker.

A mediation session typically features only both parties in the divorce and the mediator. The number of mediation sessions required directly depends on the couple's needs and how quickly an agreement is reached. Persons who complete a mediation process will be able to get an uncontested divorce.

How Long After Mediation is Divorce Final in Illinois?

When negotiation is complete, and an agreement has been filed in court, a couple may register for an uncontested divorce. Finalization can take about six months.

Are Divorce Records Public in Illinois?

According to the CourtRecords.us, divorce records are public records, meaning that any member of the public may access or view these records. However, only parties in the divorce or representatives may obtain certified copies of divorce records.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching simpler, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for a specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that person resides in or was accused in.

Third-party sites are independent from government sources, and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

How do I Get Illinois Divorce Records?

Illinois divorce records are maintained by the Vital Records division of the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and Circuit Court Clerks. The IDPH issues divorce verifications. Certified copies of divorce records are only granted by the Circuit Court Clerk in the county where the divorce was finalized.

Members of the public may request divorce verifications from the IDPH. However, only parties in a divorce may request certified copies of divorce records. Divorce verifications contain information such as the names of the divorced parties, the date, and location or county where the divorce was finalized. Verifications do not include terms and other details of a divorce, such as parenting plans and alimony.

To request a divorce verification, interested persons must complete an Application for Verification of Dissolution of Marriage. The form can be submitted with a non-refundable fee of $5 and a valid, government-issued photo identification, by mail to:

Illinois Department of Public Health
Division of Vital Records
925 E. Ridgely Ave.
Springfield, IL 62702-2737

Payment can be made by money order or check made payable to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Cash payment is not acceptable. Mail requests are typically processed within four to six weeks.

Divorce verification can also be requested by fax. The completed application form can be faxed to (217) 523-2648. The application must also include a valid government-issued photo I.D., a working phone number, a return address, and a written signature. The application should also contain the requestor's credit card details to cover the $5 verification fee, $12.95 credit card handling charge, and a $19.50 UPS charge. Requests made by fax are processed within seven business days.

To request a divorce verification in person, requestors may submit the application at:

Illinois Department of Public Health
Division of Vital Records office,
925 E. Ridgely Ave.
Springfield, IL 62702-2737

In-person requests can be submitted Monday through Friday from 10 am to 3 pm, except on public holidays. Requestors will be required to present valid, government-issued photo identification.

The IDPH maintains records of divorces filed from January 1, 1962. Records of divorces recorded before January 1, 1962, are available at the Circuit Court Clerk office in the county where the divorce was finalized.

To obtain certified copies of divorce records in Illinois, requesters may apply in person at the Circuit Court Clerk office in the county where the divorce was finalized. Requestors may also contact the Circuit Court Clerk for more information on the application or request process, including fees and identification requirements.

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