If a person wants to end a marriage, they can file for divorce. In a divorce, the court ends the marriage and all of the legal benefits that are a part of that marriage. A divorce can be contested (spouses do not agree) or uncontested (spouses agree).
Uncontested divorce goes much faster than a contested divorce. If spouses apply for a joint simplified divorce, there are more requirements. But this type of divorce can be finished more quickly.
It is best to have a lawyer for a divorce, but you can do it without one.
How long a divorce takes
There is no way to know exactly how long it will take to get a divorce. The length of time depends on many things. If both spouses can agree on how to settle issues in the divorce case, the process will be shorter. However, if both spouses cannot come to an agreement, the divorce process will take much longer and be more costly.
Contested divorces can take more than 18 months to be resolved. In this situation, spouses disagree about any of these things:
- Whether to get a divorce
- Where the children should live
- Where a companion animal should live
- How much child support should be paid
- How property should be split up
- Who should pay certain debts
- Whether "maintenance" or spousal support (alimony) should be paid
Uncontested divorce is when both spouses agree on all of these issues. The agreement must still be approved by a judge. The terms must be reasonable and cover support of the children.
If one spouse files for divorce, and the other does not reply by filing an Appearance and Answer, it will be an uncontested divorce. The case will go on without the other spouse, and the court will make decisions based on what the first spouse says. Learn more about responding to a divorce case.
Qualifying to get a divorce
To get a divorce, one spouse must have lived in Illinois for at least 90 days.
A married couple can get divorced if they can prove to a judge there are "irreconcilable differences" between them. If the spouses have been living in different places for at least 6 months, the court assumes that irreconcilable differences exist. The spouses do not have to prove that they can no longer get along.
There are no other reasons that a judge will allow for getting a divorce in Illinois.
What is decided in a divorce
At the end of a divorce case, a judge will issue an order called a "decree," or "judgment," which officially ends the marriage. The divorce judgment will cover the issues below.
Property and pets
The judge will divide up the spouses' property between them. This includes money, belongings, real estate, and investments. This also includes debts.
A person in a divorce can also petition for custody of a family pet. The judge will then decide which spouse will get custody. The judge can take into account the best interests of the pet.
Learn more about dividing property in a divorce.
The judge can order that one spouse pay the other spouse maintenance. This used to be called "alimony" or "spousal support." Learn more about getting maintenance after a divorce.
The judge will also set rules for spouses that have minor children (under 18 years old):
The judge will decide parental responsibilities ("custody"). These issues must be decided within 18 months of the spouse receiving the divorce papers. This covers parenting time and decision-making power. The terms "custody" and "visitation" are no longer used in Illinois in divorce cases.
The judge will also decide how much money the other parent will pay for child support.
Parents must attend a court-authorized in-class parenting education program before the judge decides parental responsibilities. This class teaches parents ways they can avoid hurting their children during the divorce. Both parents must take this class within 60 days after the first meeting with the judge. The class is available in-person and online. Contact your local circuit clerk’s office for information about a court-approved course. You should also see if you qualify for a fee waiver, and how you get a "Certificate of Completion,” to prove you have taken it. The Center for Divorce Education has a list of available options.
Updated: February 2018