Illinois Divorce Guide

Illinois Divorce Guide

A Guide to Divorce in Illinois

Every divorce in Illinois is unique to some degree or another, but most all must follow the same rules and procedures no matter what the circumstances are.

This guide will help you understand what many of those basic rules and procedures are so that you can equip yourself with important information that you will need to help you get through a divorce, which is technically known as a dissolution of marriage, in Illinois.

You should also get answers to your questions through other sources such as a family law attorney, your county courthouse, friends and relatives who have gone through a divorce, and online resources to help you deal with the financial, social and emotional challenges you’ll face along the way.

Here are some important things to know as you start working through the divorce process in Illinois.

The differences between divorce, annulment and separation

divorce, annulment and legal separation

Married couples can end their marriages three ways in Illinois. Each of these has their own special requirements and rules, and a basic understanding of these options is a good place for you to start.

Legal Separation. When one spouse moves out of the home, couples may be physically separated, but in the eyes of the law they are not legally separated. Legal separation requires an actual legal action to put certain provisions in place.

A legal separation in Illinois is not used very often, but it does provide a couple the option of living independently from each other both physically and financially. This agreement does not end a marriage, but it does require that things like a division of assets, child custody, and support be decided as if a marriage were actually being dissolved. It requires the execution of a document that is legally binding and signed by both spouses.

For a legal separation in Illinois to take place, a couple must physically live separate from each other, the petitioner must prove they are not the reason for the separation and at least one spouse must be a resident of Illinois so that a court can have jurisdiction.

In many cases, legal separation provides a much-needed time out that allows two people to try and resolve their issues in a less combative environment. Stepping away can often times bring added perspective about what a couple will lose in a marriage and possibly give them time to heal from the issues that caused their marriage to come under stress.

Spouses may also choose legal separation for religious reasons. Some religions do not look favorably upon divorce and staying married though legally separated puts less pressure on a couple who might otherwise be in conflict with their church and religious beliefs.

There are also financial benefits as well, such as being able to keep health insurance, or by continuing to file as a married couple on tax returns. Also, when a couple is legally separated, each person is responsible for their own financial decisions and is not responsible for those that the other person makes.

If a person is not a U.S. citizen, and they get a divorce, they run the risk of deportation. But with a legal separation, a noncitizen can still stay in the country even if they don’t live with their spouse.

Annulment. Annulments are allowed in Illinois and mean that a marriage is considered null and void, as if it never happened. To be granted an annulment, strict requirements must be met and within clearly defined timeframes.

Grounds for getting an annulment in Illinois include:

  • Coercion or duress. A filing must take place within 90 days.
  • Mental incapacity, due to mental deficiencies or due to the influence of drugs or alcohol. A filing must take place within 90 days after learning of the incapacity.
  • Fraud. This refers to misrepresentation about the ability to have children, wealth, social standing or other deceptions. A filing must take place within 90 days of discovering the fraud.
  • Physical incapacity to consummate the marriage. The condition must have existed at the time of the marriage and the innocent partner was not aware of the condition at that time. A filing must take place within one year of learning about the condition.
  • Under age. One party was 16 or 17 and did not have parental consent. A filing must take place prior to the minor’s 18th A parent may file in this instance.

Prohibited marriages are those that are void from the moment they take place and can include reasons such as bigamy. This is known as a void marriage and while no annulment is necessary, it is recommended that a person gets a judicial declaration of invalidity to protect themselves from any future legal actions.

Divorce. Divorce is a permanent and legal end to a marriage. In Illinois, a divorce is interchangeably referred to as a dissolution of marriage. All ties are severed, assets are divided, custody and alimony issues are resolved, and each spouse goes their separate way after a final decree is issued.

What are the grounds for divorce in Illinois?

Effective January 1, 2016, Illinois changed from a combination no-fault and fault-based state to purely a no-fault state. The state eliminated all fault-based grounds such as impotency, bigamy, adultery and others in favor of a spouse only needing to cite irreconcilable differences that has led to an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. Any attempts at reconciliation have failed or would be not be practical and not in the best interests of the family.

In stating irreconcilable differences, it is required that the parties demonstrate they have been living separate and apart for at least six months.

Understanding what your divorce options are

What kind of divorce is right for you

Aside from the decision to get a divorce, the single most important decision you will make is the type of divorce.

You see, there are only two ways that you reach a final resolution:

  1. You and your spouse agree
  2. A judge decides

That’s it. Those are the only two ways to get a divorce in Illinois.

The type of divorce sets the frameworks for how you get to a final resolution. The process you and your spouse choose sets the tone and shapes the outcome of your divorce.

Before we get into the details, there’s one thing I want you to keep in mind.

One type of divorce is not “better” than another. Divorce is not one size fits all.

Here are the types of divorce:

Do-It-Yourself Divorce

What I like to call the kitchen table divorce. This one is pretty straightforward. You don’t hire any professionals and attempt to resolve all your differences with your spouse. The biggest downside is you don’t know what you don’t know. I’d steer clear of this approach unless you don’t have kids or any money.

Online Divorce

A far superior choice to DIY divorce. Navigating the divorce process and legal procedures can be a minefield. A good online divorce platform removes the guesswork. Through guided interviews, you’ll complete the forms while getting educated on the key legal issues in the process. This can be a great option if you have a relatively straightforward situation and you’re on the same page with your spouse.

Pro Tip: We’ve taken a close look at the best online divorce services, and our top pick is 3 Step Divorce. They are fast and affordable, with a 100% guarantee of court approval or your money back. Check out our full review here, or you can get started with 3 Step Divorce now.


The default option and also the most expensive. If you and your spouse can’t agree on one of the other options, then you’re headed for litigation. Litigation is an attorney-driven process. While the majority of cases settle before going to trial, that doesn’t mean litigation won’t wreak havoc on you and your kids.

Sometimes, however, it’s the only viable option. If your spouse has a high-conflict personality (narcissist, borderline, etc.) or there is domestic violence, litigation might be your only option. It’s also the right choice if your primary objective is to punish your spouse. As tempting as that might be, I encourage you to think about the big picture.


With mediation, you and your spouse retain a neutral professional (typically an attorney) to help facilitate agreement. The mediator will help you brainstorm options, understand each other’s perspectives, and make compromises to reach a resolution that you and your spouse can both live with.

Collaborative Divorce

Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t just mean that you and your spouse are going to work out your divorce “collaboratively.” There’s much more to it. Collaborative divorce is a structured process that takes a team approach. Divorce is much more than a legal process. It’s about money, kids, and emotions.

That’s why a collaborative team includes collaborative lawyers, a divorce coach, and a neutral financial specialist. Unlike any other process, everyone commits not to go to court. The idea is that this removes the threat of litigation which fosters creative solutions and interest-based negotiation. It’s far and away the most supportive type of divorce.

Learn More: I’ve really just scratched the surface on the types of divorce. For a deep dive into the pros and cons of these options, be sure to check out our guide on the types of divorce.

What is the process of filing for divorce in Illinois?

Process of Getting a Divorce

You can pursue many kinds of divorce in Illinois, But the basic process is pretty much the same no matter type of divorce you choose.

Gather important information. To give yourself the best chance at achieving the best possible outcome, you need to be organized and proactive when it comes to pulling together the information you will need.

By doing so, you can ensure your rights are protected while also saving time, money and anxiety for the next steps in your divorce.

Before you jump in to collecting financial information, take the following steps:

  • Open a new checking and savings account in your name alone.
  • Open a credit card in your name alone.
  • Order a free credit report.
  • Make a list of all the assets and liabilities that you’re aware of. Include any memberships, reward points, and other perks that may be considered as assets.
If you’re in the dark about your finances, that’s okay. You and your spouse will be required to complete financial affidavits as part of the divorce process. The goal at this point is simply to begin identifying the puzzle pieces.

Okay, now it’s time to start gathering your information. Here’s a short-list of what you need:

  • Tax returns (including W-2’s, K-1’s, and 1099’s) for the last 5 years
  • Pay stubs for the last 3 months
  • Bank statements
  • Credit card statements
  • Retirement account statements
  • Pension plan statements
  • Grant notice for stock options, RSUs, etc.
  • Investment account statements
  • Life insurance policies
  • Mortgage statements
  • Real estate appraisals
  • Deeds to real estate
  • Car registration
  • Kelley Blue Book printouts (“private party value”)
  • Car loan statements
  • Social security benefit statement

This is only a partial list. You can check out the complete divorce document checklist here.

Complete the initial paperwork. After you decide what kind of divorce you will pursue, you will need to fill out several forms and submit them to start your divorce.

If you are using an attorney, they will help you with this process, making sure that you are using the right forms and that they are filled out correctly.

If you are going to complete forms by yourself, which many people do, there are several possible forms you will need to submit. Illinois does not have a uniform set of forms, so what you need to complete will vary from county to county. You will need to do some research based on where you live.

However, at a minimum, you will need to complete and file a Petition for a Dissolution of Marriage. If you are the one initiating this process, you will be known as the petitioner. If you are the one responding to the petition, you will be known as the respondent or defendant.

To give you a better idea of what you may need to submit by way of example, in Cook County, the following forms must be completed:

  • Domestic Relations Cover Sheet
  • Petition for Dissolution of Marriage
  • Summons
  • Affidavit of Service
  • Certificate of Dissolution
  • Financial Disclosure Statement

If you have minor children, you will also need to file the following:

  • Joint Parenting Agreement
  • Visitation Form
  • Uniform Order of Support

File your forms. If you are working with an attorney, they will make sure all the forms are correct and will file them at the clerk of the court which is generally found in the courthouse for your county. You will need to pay a filing fee when you submit your paperwork.

Fees vary by county but expect to pay between $150 and $300. The clerk’s office will file your paperwork, provide you with a case number, assign a judge to your case, and issue your summons.

You must then serve your spouse with copies of the divorce papers to legally make them aware of the divorce petition.

Completing proof of service in Illinois

Illinois law allows the filing spouse to “serve” the other spouse in five possible ways:

  • Voluntary acceptance.
  • Sheriff’s service. This is the preferred method of service in Illinois. After the sheriff has served your papers to your spouse, you will receive a proof of service document which you must then file with the court.
  • Service by special process server. (must receive court permission)
  • Service by publication. You can pursue this option if you can’t find your spouse. This method allows you to publish notification of your divorce in a local newspaper. It is generally is the most costly of all methods.
  • Service by special order of the court.

The Respondent has 30 days to file his or her response from the date of service. When you know the date of service, you can return to the Clerk’s office and set a court date. You must provide notice to the Respondent of the court date

Can you file for divorce online in Illinois?

Divorce Online

You must file for a divorce in person in Illinois. However, there are several services and private attorneys who can do the bulk of the paperwork needed for divorce through electronic means. Doing so can save time and money, especially in an uncontested divorce where most if not all of the issues have been resolved by the spouses.

I recommend checking out 3 Step Divorce if you want a fast, cheap divorce. You can get started here.

3 Step Divorce checks all the boxes that make an online divorce worthwhile.

They aim to make it easy – and they certainly deliver.

From step-by-step instructions to unlimited live support, here are just a few of the reasons why 3 Step is our #1 recommended online divorce resource:

  • Affordable
    • $299 flat-fee with no hidden charges
  • Flexible
    • Monthly payment options as low as $84/mo
  • Fast
    • Initial questionnaire takes less than 1 hour
  • Informative
    • Library of free tools and resources
  • Supportive
    • Unlimited access to support agents by phone or email
  • Instantaneous
    • Immediate access to completed forms
  • Guaranteed
    • Assurance of 100% court-approval (or your money back!)

3 Step Divorce also boasts the highest customer rating in the industry (4.6 stars based on 1,575 reviews).

3 Step Divorce Rating

You can learn more by reading our 3StepDivorce review.

Better yet, you can Start Your 3 Step Divorce NOW (as low as $84/month).

Regardless of how the forms are completed, you will need to print your forms out and then file your documents with the court.

How much will it cost?

Cost of a Divorce

To file papers in a divorce in Illinois, a petitioner will need to pay a filing fee of between $150 and $300. Fees will vary by county. To find out the exact filing fee, contact the county’s circuit clerk to get the cost.

You will also need to pay a fee for service of the divorce papers on your spouse. This can involve using a sheriff’s deputy or process server. There are other methods you can use, but these are generally considered the most effective and least costly.

A person who has been served and who wants to respond to the complaint will need to file what is known as an Appearance and an Answer. The courts will also charge a fee to file these papers as well. And any additional motions filed with the court by either spouse will also result in added costs as well.

If children are involved in the divorce, there is also a fee for a required parenting class.

In some instances, it may be possible to ask a judge to waive the fees associated with filings in a divorce case. To do so, you will need to demonstrate that you do not have the means to pay and complete a waiver form.

If there are any unresolved issues regarding your divorce, you can expect to pay an attorney legal fees that will range from $200 to $500 per hour depending on how complex your divorce is and how many hours it will take to resolve those issues. You will also need to pay some sort of a retainer upfront to start the process.

If you decide to use a mediator or an arbitrator, expect your costs to be somewhere between $3,000 and $7,000, and possibly more. In some cases, a judge may require a couple to go through mediation as part of the divorce process.

Fully contested divorces can run into the tens of thousands of dollars depending on how contentious the divorce is, what kind of assets are involved, and how much disagreement there is with child custody and support issues.

How long does it take to get a divorce in Illinois?

How Long Does a Divorce Take

How long it takes to get a divorce in Illinois will depend on what kind of divorce you are planning to go through. In an uncontested divorce, the process can take as little as two months from start to finish, assuming you meet all requirements, such as at least one spouse must have lived in Illinois for at least 90 days before they can file for divorce.

When children are involved, they must have been Illinois residents for at least six months.

If a divorce is uncontested, there is no waiting period in Illinois. Divorces that are flagged as contested will typically have a six-month waiting period.

Once paperwork is filed, within two weeks you should receive a case number and notification of the judge who will preside over your case. A summons must be served on your spouse and if you use the sheriff’s department, this can take up to another three weeks.

After service, a spouse is given 30 days to respond to the complaint and to inform the court whether the divorce will be uncontested or contested. Both spouses will then attend an appearance. If there is no response to the summons, the judge will set a court date out another four weeks or thereabouts.

There can be several court appearances that can take place in a contested divorce, but Illinois has a law that says unless it is agreed upon in writing, all custody cases must be resolved within 18 months of being filed.

After all issues are settled, a judge will schedule a prove-up which is a final hearing to review and past judgment on all issues.

Working with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst

Divorce Financial Analyst

Every divorce has financial issues that need to be addressed. In some cases, a family law attorney can provide all the information you need.

But if you have a degree of financial complexity, you should consider working with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA).

A CDFA can help you understand the long-term impact of your decisions so you can weigh the pros and cons. In fact, working with a CDFA can actually lower the cost of your divorce (by giving you more clarity to make decisions which cuts down on the back-and-forth negotiations).

Related Reading: What is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst? (and why you need one).

Bifurcation of marital status in Illinois

Bifurcation means that both parties in a divorce can legally divide their divorce into two stages. The first part satisfies the grounds for the divorce and the second part addresses the financial aspects of the divorce such as child custody, visitation, child support, alimony or other contentious issues that may have stalled or become major sticking points that are keeping the divorce from being finalized.

Illinois allows bifurcation under statute 750 ILCS 401(b). The circumstances for bifurcation are narrowly drawn under this statute and while it is allowed there are some disadvantages to bifurcation.

Courts do not like the fact that bifurcation creates judicial inefficiency, meaning that a divorce will actually have to go through two hearings instead of one. Couples will also need to understand that they could rack up more legal bills by going through two hearings instead of one as well.

Bifurcation also removes some of the incentives to settle outstanding and contentious issues which can be a powerful motivation to seek and resolve settlement.

Can I cancel, refuse, contest, stop or reverse a divorce in Illinois?

The bottom line is that if someone wants to divorce another person in Illinois, there is no way to stop the process.

However, if the divorce process has started but a final decree has not been issued and the spouses have reconciled, it may be possible to have a petitioner file a motion seeking to dismiss the complaint, thus ending the divorce action.

Once a final decree has been issued, the divorce if final. If two people decide they want to reconcile at that point, they will have to get married again.

What is a divorce decree?

Divorce Decree

A divorce decree is the court’s final order that terminates a marriage. It provides a summary of the rights and responsibilities of each party, including financial responsibilities and a division of assets. it also covers child custody, visitation, alimony, child support and other similar issues.

Once the divorce decree is issued, parties are legally free to marry another person. The divorce decree is a legally binding document, and if either party does not meet the requirements and obligations set forth in the decree, the other party can take legal action to correct any deficiencies.

What is a divorce certificate?

After a divorce decree has been granted, the Illinois Department of Public Health, Division of Public Records will receive the information pertaining to the divorce and record it. The Division of Vital Records can only verify that a dissolution of marriage has taken place. But to obtain a certified copy of a dissolution record, a person must contact the circuit court clerk in the county where the dissolution was granted.

You can obtain a verification from the IDPH for $5 either in person, by mail or by fax. You must complete an Application for Verification of Dissolution of Marriage in all instances.

To Order by Mail

You can mail the completed application or send a letter providing the names of both parties, their dates of birth and the date and place of the dissolution of marriage, if known, and a check or money order for $5 made payable to the “Illinois Department of Public Health” to:

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

Regular mail requests are processed in about 4 to 6 weeks.

To Order by Fax

Orders can be faxed to 217-523-2648. You will need to include the application for verification of dissolution of marriage/civil union record files, PDF format, or provide the names of both parties and the date and place of the dissolution of marriage on the transmittal/cover sheet.

You also need to include:

  • your credit card number and expiration date (to pay the $5 verification fee, a $12.95 credit card handling charge, and the $19.50 UPS charge). A $3 fee will be applied for each additional person in a group order.
  • A daytime phone number, including area code, in case it is necessary to contact you about the request.
  • Your return address
  • Your written signature
  • A valid government-issued photo identification ID (if an ID is not provided, unreadable, or expired, the request will not be processed)

These orders may take 7 business days to process. Incomplete or illegible applications will not be processed. An adult signature is necessary to accept the UPS delivery. UPS deliveries cannot be made to post office boxes.

To Order In Person

In-person orders can be dropped off for mail out within 3 business days at the Illinois Department of Public Health, Division of Vital Records office, 925 East Ridgely Ave., Springfield, on Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The person requesting the verification will be asked to show a valid photo identification card.

Changing Your Name

You will be presented either an option to restore your former name or request a court order for changing names when preparing your divorce forms.

The name change will be granted as part of your divorce. You may either receive a separate court order making your name change official, or else have your name change recorded on the final divorce decree. Either of these documents are accepted with all US agencies and organizations as evidence of your name change.

Just because you have a court order does not mean your name change has taken effect. You need to contact all your organizations to request your records are updated.

Start by updating your name with the Social Security Administration. Once complete you can go on change names everywhere else.

It’s time-consuming to contact each company and figure out what to send where, so we recommend using an Easy Name Change kit to cut out the 10+ hours of research and paperwork that follows.

Read: 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Changing my Last Name

There are a lot of divorce resources that make big claims. We’ve tested a bunch of them. Most fall short. A few stand above the rest.

These are the tools and resources we’re excited to share with you because we know they can help you have a better divorce.

If you’re looking for recommendations in any of the following areas, we’ve got you covered:

  • Online divorce
  • QDRO preparation to divide retirement plans and pensions
  • Masterclass on ninja tricks to negotiating with a narcissist
  • Co-parenting apps
  • Personal finance and budgeting apps
  • Best place to sell your engagement ring
  • And a whole lot more

You can check them out here >>

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