What to Expect in a Divorce Action
Divorce is way up on the list of life’s greatest stressors, and every divorce is unique. Financial situations, personal property and circumstances differ, and children may be involved. Some couples can come to an agreement and work out their differences amiably; others fight a bitter war to the end and wind up having a difficult, expensive, and drawn-out contested courtroom proceeding.
Whatever the circumstances, legal issues must be resolved fairly and according to Illinois law. The skilled Illinois family-law attorneys at Wolfe & Stec, Ltd. provide professional guidance to help you through the process at this difficult time.
Illinois divorce may take two forms:
1) Simplified divorce – this is useful for many short, childless marriages with relatively little wealth, property, and income.
2) Traditional divorce — Most people will go through a traditional divorce process in state court. Some can reach a negotiated settlement, but if not, there will be a trial and a circuit court judge will decide how to resolve the issues.
How the Process Begins
1) Your lawyer file a document called an “appearance” that informs the court that he or she is representing you.
2) A “summons” informs your spouse of the suit for divorce.
3) A “petition” asks the court for dissolution of the marriage and lists grounds.
4) These documents are filed with the court, and your spouse gets official copies. Your spouse can now file their statement of facts and request for relief in an “answer.”
5) If you can’t work out details on your own, there is often a provisional hearing where temporary orders are given while the long term agreement is worked out.
Grounds for Divorce
Illinois recognizes divorce based on irreconcilable differences — Neither party is blamed. Since January, 2016, there is no longer any mandatory separation period necessary, nor does fault have to be proven. In cases where both spouses are not in agreement regarding the divorce, a six-month separation will be accepted by the court as definitive proof of irreconcilable differences, and the divorce may proceed.
After the initial filing, the negotiations start. If you and your spouse can agree on the issues, then a “marital settlement agreement” will be drafted.
If you can’t reach an agreement, the court may order a conciliation conference and counseling. If minor children are involved, the court may order you and your spouse to attend an educational program concerning the effects of dissolution of marriage on the children. [Based on Illinois Compiled Statutes 750 – Chapter 5 – Section: 404 and 401.1]
The court may also order mediation with a neutral attorney that represents neither side, but tries to get both sides to compromise.
What if there’s a trial?
If you still can’t agree on the issues, you will wind up in court for a trial. A trial involves preparation called “discovery,” an exchange of information where the contested issues are singled out and the assets, income, and debt of the parties are identified. Spouses present their side of the story to the judge through testimony, witnesses, exhibits and experts. The judge will decide the issues regarding property, debt, spousal maintenance, and child custody and visitation.
Illinois is an equitable distribution state — marital property is divided equitably, not necessarily equally. All property acquired after the marriage and before a judgment of dissolution of marriage is presumed to be marital property, and this is divided without regard to marital misconduct.
Ending the Process
Once the judge enters a “final dissolution of marriage decree”, it becomes an order. This can be modified if there has been a change in circumstances, but only as to custody and child support. If the order is not followed, a “motion to compel compliance” can be filed, or the noncompliant former spouse could even be held in contempt of court.
The quickest you can expect to obtain your divorce is approximately three or four months. If divorce is contested, it may take a year or more to finalize.
The facts and circumstances of each case are different, and since the issues are complex and divorce procedure can be overwhelming, it makes sense to seek legal counsel to represent your interests. The skilled family-law attorneys at Wolfe & Stec, Ltd., can advise and guide you through every step in the process.
For a free initial consultation with an experienced and compassionate DuPage County divorce lawyer, contact us online or call 630-305-0222 or 312-388-7882.