The Divorce Process

Understanding the Divorce Process in Illinois

If you are like most people, chances are good that you have never hired an attorney or set foot in a court room. If you are planning on getting a divorce or were recently served with divorce papers, the thought of going to court can be intimidating. At Goodman Law Firm we know that our divorce clients have enough to worry about without the burden of navigating the legal system too. Below we provide a basic overview of how the divorce process unfolds once a couple decides to divorce. If you have questions about your case, please feel free to contact us. We have experience counseling men and women throughout Chicago and its suburbs.

Before the Divorce

Often there is much work being done prior to actually filing for divorce.  You and/or your spouse may be consulting with a divorce attorney about your legal rights and carefully considering your available options.  You and your spouse may be in couples counseling in an effort to repair your marriage or to confirm that it cannot be saved.  Once you hire an attorney, he will likely ask you to gather as much financial information as possible before filing a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.  Then you will work with the attorney to formulate a strategy for achieving your goals in your divorce.  In some cases information gathering may last weeks or months, but in others sufficient information may be available to immediately begin settlement negotiations with your spouse.  Every situation is unique, and the manner in which your divorce proceeds through the divorce process will necessarily vary.

The Petition for Dissolution

A divorce is officially initiated when one party to a marriage files a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with the clerk of the court in the appropriate county. A filing fee is required to be paid by the petitioner (the party filing for divorce). The amount of the filing fee varies by county. A summons can be issued at the time of filing permitting the divorce papers or petition to be served on the other spouse (aka the respondent). The responding party has about a month to prepare a written response to the petition for dissolution of marriage after it is served.

Temporary Orders

After a petition for dissolution is served, either party may ask the family law court to temporarily rule on issues such as significant decision-making (child custody), parenting time (visitation), child support, maintenance (alimony), or possession of the marital home, to name a few. The court’s ability to make a temporary order before all of the evidence is gathered and weighed is a lifesaver for some individuals who otherwise would have no way to support themselves or their children. If you are concerned about how you will pay your bills or support your children while your divorce is pending, talk to your attorney about requesting temporary child support or maintenance.

Discovery

Discovery is the next step in the divorce process. The discovery process can be relatively short or take many months to complete. Typically, discovery begins with the mutual exchange of financial disclosure statements. The disclosure statement is a legal document detailing income, expenses, debts, and assets. After exchanging disclosure statements, the parties may exchange additional discovery. The scope and duration of the discovery process will depend on the number of issues contested and the complexity of the marital estate. Discovery can include written interrogatories, requests to produce documents, requests to admit facts, subpoenas for documents, and depositions. Discovery may proceed in an amicable fashion, with each spouse providing information and documents quickly and cooperatively. Alternatively, discovery may be contentious requiring court intervention to force disclosure of any requested information.

Divorce with Children

If a divorcing couple has children together, then they or the court must allocate parental responsibility for the children between them. Allocating parental responsibilities entails deciding who will have significant decision making authority for the children and when each parent will have parenting time with the children. (Historically, family law courts awarded custody and set visitation. The terms custody and visitation have largely been replaced in Illinois).

When the allocation of parental responsibilities (custody) is at issue, a divorce may take longer to complete. Nevertheless, pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 922, Illinois courts are required to resolve custody issues within 18 months of service of the petition. If a couple cannot agree on the allocation of parental responsibilities, court ordered custody mediation is often the first step to resolving the parenting dispute. Regardless, divorcing couples with children are required to submit a proposed parenting plan within 4 months of filing for divorce. If mediation fails to yield a resolution, then a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) or a Child’s Representative may be appointed to the case. A custody evaluation may also be ordered if the couple still cannot reach an agreement on their own. Ultimately, if the couple cannot reach an agreement, the court will set a trial date at which time the judge will determine the terms of the parenting plan and enter an Allocation Judgment.

Negotiations and Settlement in a Divorce

Spouses are permitted to discuss the possibility of a settlement at any time. Generally, settlement discussions take place throughout the divorce process. If a settlement is reached, an attorney will prepare a Marital Settlement Agreement, and when applicable, a Parenting Plan. Once the paperwork is signed, a prove-up date can be scheduled with the court to finalize the divorce. Sometimes it is impossible to engage in meaningful settlement discussions because one spouse has sole control over the key financial information necessary to resolve the divorce.

Hearings and Trial

If a settlement is not reached after discovery has concluded, a trial will be scheduled. A family law court judge is likely to hold a pre-trial conference before a trial or hearing in an effort to reach a settlement agreement and avoid the expenses associated with a trial. In divorce court, a judge, not a jury will decide your case.

DuPage Divorce Lawyers

If you are looking for an experienced litigator in Oak Brook, Naperville, Wheaton, or Chicago, contact us today at (630) 464-6700 and request a divorce consultation.