Facing the emotional prospect of divorce is enough stress for any person. However, people who want to end their marriage also must deal with the legal process of dissolving the union.
Though you may feel intimidated by the prospect of filing for divorce and making your way through the court case, it’s important to understand the reality of what’s to come. Divorce in its most basic sense is not a complicated legal process, but the emotions of everyone involved can often cause delays and difficulties.
If you know what to expect in divorce, that knowledge will support your efforts and help keep your emotions in check. Here, we answer three simple questions about the divorce process, including what you can expect when filing for divorce, suggestions for how you can prepare, and ways to avoid emotional decision-making.
How do I file for divorce in Illinois?
What you’re facing: Protect your interests, decide how to file
Protecting your interests in divorce begins even before you file legal papers. Though it’s likely your spouse already understands the marriage is failing, your step of filing for divorce could trigger them to act out negatively.
Before announcing your intention to legally petition the court for divorce, you should gather important financial documents and any other items you think may be relevant to the divorce case. By keeping this information safe, you prevent the destruction of records or important property by an angry spouse.
When it’s time to file for divorce, you will file a Petition of Dissolution of Marriage. You will complete and file a form that asks for detailed information about the spouse filing for divorce, called the petitioner, and the other spouse called the respondent.
If you file for divorce unilaterally, your spouse will get served with a summons to appear, a message often delivered by your county’s sheriff’s department. To avoid this type of service, your spouse can accept the documents through the mail, by picking up the documents at an attorneys’ office or by having his or her attorney accept service. Thereafter, an Appearance is filed notifying the court of their intention to reply to the petition.
What you can do: Gather documents prior to notifying your spouse of your intention to file. Review the Petition of Dissolution of Marriage form, and address the form of service with your attorney.
How can I prevent delays in the divorce process?
What you’re facing: Personal delays, court delays
Divorce proceedings typically consist of several major elements, including division of assets and debts, calculation of spousal maintenance and child support, and determination of the allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time. Finding agreement on these issues is key to settling the case and ultimately getting a divorce decree from the court.
Working within legal parameters, spouses can possibly complete their divorce relatively quickly if they find common ground on how to allocate assets, and on issues related to their children. This is called an uncontested divorce, because neither spouse is legally contesting any relevant issue.
Though it may take time to find consensus during these intense conversations, settling issues outside of court then asking the judge to sign off on your agreement is best. Cooperation with your spouse, while difficult, is the most effective way to avoid delays and obtain an equitable divorce decree.
Even if two people agree on the terms of their divorce, nearly everyone faces court-related delays. After filing a petition for dissolution, the county court will set a date for a judge to hear your case and formalize the dissolution of marriage. This may take several weeks or even months, so be prepared to wait. Also, be sure to gather all relevant materials and complete all filings before your court date, to avoid further delays.
What you can do: Work with your spouse to compromise on issues to settle your divorce as quickly as possible. Investigate potential for simplified procedures. Expect court delays, and prepare for your hearing to avoid further setbacks.
How do I make sure the divorce decree is fair?
What to expect: What you think is “fair” may not be legal.
Unfortunately, many spouses have a difficult time agreeing on the major issues debated in their divorce. This type of contested divorce takes much longer, as the estranged couple must now rely on their assigned family court judge to determine the most equitable settlement.
Divorce cases involve crucial life issues, so it’s not surprising when spouses disagree about who ought to retain the family home or how much time children should spend with each parent, for example. Before asking a family court judge to settle these disagreements, divorcing spouses can get help from a mediator to find a solution.
Unfortunately, many people begin divorce proceedings with a concept of what they believe is “fair,” not realizing the legal limitations around divorce cases. They offer proof of their spouse’s infidelity or drug abuse in an attempt to earn ground in the divorce decree.
Illinois is a “no-fault divorce state,” meaning the law views each party to the divorce as equal in terms of their rights to assets and with regard to child-related issues. This means family court judges will not take into consideration actions of infidelity, moral offenses, or any other perceived misdeed when determining a settlement.
Unless one spouse is found to be guilty of dissipation — spending excessively or hiding assets — the judge will follow the same rules used for everyone when deciding how to divide assets, support, and child-related issues.
This no-fault system was put in place to make divorce proceedings more equitable and less subjective in their outcomes. Though some find it frustrating, especially those believing they have the moral upper hand, the law views personal failings as immaterial to a person’s basic rights.
You can assist in assuring the fairness of your divorce decree by providing detailed documentation about income, assets, property, and debts. Also, if your spouse is involved in destructive behavior such as substance abuse or violence, family courts have mechanisms to limit their access to unsupervised visits with children if appropriate. You can advocate for your children to protect them as your divorce moves forward.
What you can do: Work with a mediator to settle issues without a judge’s orders. Understand that what you think is “fair” might not be the law. Advocate for yourself and your children by providing clear information about your finances and home environment.
Learn more about the divorce process in Illinois, and how you can protect your interests by speaking with one of the legal professionals at Sterk Family Law Group.
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