Preparing to go through a divorce can be stressful. The process is unfamiliar, and you are working toward starting a new—and also unfamiliar—post-divorce life. There are many issues you need to consider, and you need to know when to stand up for your legal rights while also knowing when to compromise to avoid having your divorce end up in court.

Knowing what to expect during the process can help ease some of the stress of divorce. If you know what to expect, you can plan ahead and feel confident in your decision-making. With this in mind, we have prepared an Illinois divorce roadmap that provides an overview of the steps involved in going through a divorce.

Our Illinois Divorce Roadmap

So, what are the steps involved in getting a divorce in Illinois? Here is an overview of the divorce process:

1. One Spouse (the “Petitioner”) Files for Divorce

Regardless of whether one spouse wants a divorce or both spouses are ready to bring their marriage to an end, one spouse will start the process by filing a divorce petition in court. The spouse who files this petition (referred to as the “Petitioner”) must choose the correct court and carefully prepare the petition while ensuring that it includes all necessary information.

Mistakes at this early stage can lead to unnecessary delays, and they can potentially cause problems down the line. As a result, while the spouses can file a divorce petition on their own, it is best to hire an experienced divorce lawyer to help you.

2. The Petitioner Serves a Summons

After filing for divorce, the Petitioner must serve a summons on his or her spouse (referred to as the “Respondent”). This legal document provides formal notice that the divorce process has begun. The summons must include several pieces of information and be served properly to be effective. Ineffective service can lead to unnecessary delays and problems, and here, too, it is best to hire an experienced divorce lawyer to handle the legal paperwork for you.

3. The Respondent files an Answer

After being served, the Respondent has limited time to file an Answer. This formal legal filing acknowledges and responds to the original divorce petition. The Answer does not need to address all of the issues involved in the couple’s divorce, which will come later, but it needs to comply with the requirements for submitting a valid response. If a Respondent’s Answer is late or incomplete, the judge may be forced to act as if no Answer was filed. At the very least, deficiencies in an Answer can also lead to unnecessary complications.

4. Both Spouses Attend a Parenting Class (if They Have Children)

Illinois law requires divorcing parents to complete a parenting class as part of the divorce process. They must attend this parenting class separately, and they can attend either in-person or online. The Illinois Courts have approved certain third-party providers for this mandatory parenting class, which must be at least four hours long and cover “the subjects of visitation and custody and their impact on children.”

5. The Spouses Negotiate the Terms of Their Divorce

In most cases, spouses resolve the terms of their divorce through the negotiation process. These negotiations can be as formal or informal as the spouses prefer, but they should thoroughly address all the issues involved in ending a marriage in Illinois. These issues fall into five broad categories:

  • Property division
  • Debt division
  • Spousal support (alimony)
  • Parenting time (child custody and visitation)
  • Child support

Within each of these categories, there may be numerous specific issues that divorcing spouses may need to address, and their decisions on specific topics (i.e., alimony) may impact their choices on others (i.e., property division). For most couples, this step will take up most of the time involved in their divorce, producing an agreement that allows them to move forward.

6. The Spouses Attend Mediation if Necessary

Occasionally, divorcing spouses cannot come to terms. When this is the case, the judge presiding over their divorce may require them to participate in mediation. Mediation is a guided negotiation process in which the spouses work with a neutral third-party mediator who helps them understand each other’s point of view and consider creative options for resolving the issues involved in their divorce.

7. The Spouses Go To Court

Regardless of whether mediation is necessary, the spouses eventually must go to court. Depending on the circumstances, this can either involve:

  • Submitting a Marital Settlement Agreement for the Judge’s Final Approval – If the spouses have reached an agreement (independently or through mediation), they will present their agreement to the judge for approval. When the judge approves, their marriage will come to an end.
  • Each Spouse Presenting Arguments and the Judge Rendering a Binding Decision – If the spouses haven’t reached an agreement, they must present their respective arguments to the judge. The judge will consider their arguments and issue a binding decision determining their divorce’s terms.

Pre-Divorce Preparations: Getting Ready Before You Start the Process

While these are the major steps involved in the divorce process, it will generally make sense for both spouses to take additional steps to get ready before the process formally begins. You can read our Illinois Divorce Checklist for an overview of the steps involved in preparing for a divorce in Illinois.

Request a Free Consultation with Gurnee, IL, Divorce Lawyer Deanna J. Bowen

Are you considering filing for divorce in Illinois, or has your spouse recently filed for divorce? If so, we encourage you to contact us for more information. To request a free initial consultation with Gurnee, IL, divorce lawyer Deanna J. Bowen, please call 847-623-4002 or get in touch online today.