For spouses who are contemplating divorce in Illinois, taking steps to prepare will help ensure that the process goes as smoothly as possible. Most people find the process stressful (and understandably so), and getting ready in advance can provide much-needed certainty while helping to reduce the emotional burdens involved.
From collecting financial records to thinking about child custody, and from understanding the meaning of “irreconcilable differences” to learning about mistakes you need to avoid, there are several simple – but important – steps you can take to start getting ready for your divorce.
Section 1: Your Finances
- Paystubs, W-2s, and 1099s. Make copies of your most recent paystubs and W-2s or 1099s. If you have access to your spouse’s income forms in your home, make copies of these as well.
- Tax Returns. It will also be helpful to have copies of your most recent tax returns for purposes of establishing you and your spouse’s total income and identifying any deductions or expenses that may be relevant to the financial aspects of your divorce.
- Family Budget. If you maintain a family budget, this will be helpful when it comes to establishing alimony and child support (if these are applicable to your divorce). If you don’t, you can download copies of your checking account and credit card statements to get a picture of your family’s monthly spending.
- Bank Accounts. Make copies of your recent bank account statements for joint accounts and any accounts you own personally and make sure you know how to login to your accounts online.
- Retirement and Investment Accounts. Do the same for your IRA or 401(k) and any other investment accounts that you own personally or jointly with your spouse.
Section 2: Your Property
- Property Records. Make copies of the deed for your home, your vehicle titles, and any other property records you may have.
- Inventory of Property. Prepare an inventory of your real and personal property. Be as comprehensive as possible, and make note of the approximate date of purchase, if known.
- “Separate” vs. “Marital” Property. Once you have prepared an inventory of your property, make note of whether your assets are likely to be classified as “separate” or “marital” property. While there are exceptions, as a general rule, assets you owned before you got married will be separate, while assets acquired during your marriage will be marital property.
- Prioritization of Marital Assets. In Illinois, marital assets are subject to equitable distribution. As you prepare for your divorce, it is a good idea to begin thinking about which assets matter to you the most so that you know how to prioritize them during the equitable distribution process.
- Secured Debts. Make copies of recent statements for your mortgage, car loans, and any other debts that are secured by your separate or marital property.
Section 3: Your Children
- Your Children’s “Best Interests.” In all custody matters (technically referred to as “allocation of parental responsibilities”), the Illinois courts focus on the “best interests” of the children. Review Illinois’ “best interests” factors and think about how they apply to your family.
- Guardian ad Litem. Consider whether it may be in your children’s best interests to appoint a guardian ad litem.
- While the “best interests” factors are the guiding force in custody matters, the practicalities of the parents’ schedules are relevant as well. Think about how your schedule would work with your desired parenting rights, and consider any adjustments or accommodations that may be necessary.
- Your Children’s Needs. The divorce process can be particularly difficult for young children. Think about your children’s needs during the process, and make sure you are doing what you can to keep them uninvolved. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has published a helpful guide.
- Child Support Estimator. In Illinois, parents’ child support obligations are determined based upon a statutory formula. You can use the Department of Healthcare and Family Services’ Child Support Estimator to learn about the factors that affect the calculation of child support.
Section 4: Your Divorce
- Mistakes to Avoid. Read: 5 Mistakes People Make When Going Through a Divorce in Illinois.
- Social Media. Read: Helpful Tips for Social Media Accounts During a Divorce in Illinois.
- Understanding the Role of Marital Fault. Read: What are the Grounds for Divorce in Illinois?
- Agreed Divorce. Read: Benefits of an Uncontested Divorce.
- Protecting Your Pets. Read: Who Gets the Pets in an Illinois Divorce?
Section 5: Your Future
- Long-Term Decision-Making. While it is easy to get bogged down, when going through a divorce, it is important to focus on the future. When making decisions, be sure you are making them with your (and your children’s) long-term interests in mind.
- Financial Planning. Prepare a post-divorce budget so that you know what you can expect with regard to your finances once your marriage is over. Will you need alimony? What is the maximum alimony you can afford to pay and still live comfortably?
- Being Comprehensive. From identifying your assets to thinking about your children’s best interests, in all aspects of your preparations it is important to be as thorough as possible.
- Anticipating Changes. Are you expecting changes at work? Will your children soon be heading to college? Think about potential changes that could impact your needs after your divorce.
- Questions to Ask. By now, you probably have lots of questions. Make a list to bring with you to your initial divorce consultation.
Of course, everyone’s circumstances are unique, and different circumstances may call for different preparations. So, this checklist should not be considered comprehensive, and there is no substitute for speaking with an experienced divorce lawyer. We offer free initial consultations that are completely confidential, and if you are considering a divorce we invite you to schedule an appointment today.
Schedule an Appointment with Gurnee, IL Divorce Attorney Deanna J. Bowen
If you live in the Gurnee, IL area and would like more information about how you can plan ahead for your divorce, please call 847-623-4002 or send us a message online to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with attorney Deanna J. Bowen.