What Is the Illinois Divorce Process?


Getting a divorce can be a challenging and emotional process, but understanding the steps involved can help you feel more confident as you navigate through it. This article will guide you through the process of getting a divorce in the state of Illinois, covering essential aspects such as residency requirements, joint filing, fault vs. no-fault divorce, waiting periods, serving documents, spouse responses, and the negotiation process. Let’s dive in!

Divorce in Illinois: Before Filing the Petition

Residency Requirements

Before filing for divorce in Illinois, it’s crucial to meet the residency requirements. At least one member of the couple must have lived in the state for 90 days before filing for divorce. This requirement may influence your choice of where to file for divorce.

Joint Filing for Divorce in Illinois

Uncontested Divorce

In Illinois, couples have the option to file for an uncontested divorce jointly. This means both parties agree on the terms of the divorce, and there’s no need to go to trial. Uncontested divorce can save time, money, and reduce the stress associated with the process. However, both spouses must agree on the divorce and how to divide assets and debts.

Divorce with Minor Children

If you have minor children, filing for a joint petition for divorce is not available to you. The process becomes more complex when children are involved, and child custody and support need to be addressed.

Filing Your Illinois Divorce Petition

Obtaining Necessary Forms

To initiate the divorce process, you need to obtain the necessary forms and file them with the Clerk of the Circuit Court in the county where you or your spouse reside. The divorce petition, also known as the Complaint for Dissolution of Marriage, can be obtained from the clerk’s office or online from the Illinois Courts website.

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Additional Forms

In addition to the petition, you’ll need to fill out and file additional forms, such as a summons and a financial affidavit. These documents are essential for providing information about your financial situation and notifying your spouse about the divorce proceedings.

Fault vs. No-Fault Divorce

No-Fault Divorce

Illinois allows for both fault and no-fault divorces. A no-fault divorce is based on irreconcilable differences, meaning the marriage is beyond repair. It’s a common ground for divorce when neither party is blamed for the marriage’s breakdown.

Fault-Based Divorce

On the other hand, fault-based grounds for divorce involve specific reasons, such as adultery, cruelty, abandonment, drug addiction, and habitual drunkenness. These grounds may impact issues like property division and spousal support.

Waiting Period

Minimum Waiting Period

Illinois has a waiting period during which a divorce cannot be finalized. For a contested divorce, there is a minimum waiting period of six months from the date the divorce petition is filed and served on the other party.

Waiving the Waiting Period

In some cases, the waiting period may be waived if both parties agree and meet certain requirements. This can expedite the divorce process if both spouses are on amicable terms.

Serving Your Documents

Personal Service

In Illinois, you can serve divorce papers to your spouse through personal service. This means a sheriff, private process server, or any person over the age of 18, not involved in the case, personally hands the papers to your spouse.

Substitute Service

If your spouse cannot be found or is avoiding service, substitute service may be used. The papers can be left with someone who is over 13 years old at their household, workplace, or usual place of abode.

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Spouse Responds to Petition (or Fails to Respond)

Spouse Responds

Once served with divorce papers, your spouse has 30 days to file a response with the court. This response is called an “Answer,” and it allows your spouse to address the claims made in the divorce petition.

Spouse Fails to Respond

If your spouse does not respond within the 30-day period, the court may enter a default judgment of divorce. This means the court grants the divorce without your spouse’s input, following the terms outlined in the divorce petition.


Equitable Distribution

Illinois follows the principle of equitable distribution when dividing marital property. This means that property and assets are divided fairly and reasonably, but not necessarily equally, between both spouses.

Uncontested vs. Contested Divorce

If both parties reach an agreement on all issues related to the divorce, they can proceed with an uncontested divorce. In this case, a marital settlement agreement is prepared and signed by both spouses, outlining the terms of the divorce.

In a contested divorce, when issues remain unresolved, the court may hold a hearing or trial to make decisions. This process can be lengthy and costly.

Mediation as an Alternative Solution

Mediation is an alternative to litigation that costs less and minimizes stress. It allows both parties to work with a neutral mediator to resolve disputes and come to an agreement outside of court.

Final Judgment vs. Trial

Once all issues related to the divorce have been resolved, both parties submit a final judgment to the court. If the court approves the judgment, the divorce is finalized.

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In cases where issues are still outstanding, the court may schedule a trial to make final decisions based on evidence and arguments presented by both parties.


Divorce in Illinois can be a complex and emotional process, but with a clear understanding of the steps involved, you can navigate through it more confidently. Remember to consider the residency requirements, the option of joint filing, fault vs. no-fault divorce, the waiting period, serving documents, and the negotiation process. Mediation can be a beneficial alternative to litigation, reducing stress and expenses. Ultimately, a well-informed approach can lead to a smoother divorce process.


1. Can I file for divorce in Illinois if I haven’t lived in the state for 90 days?

No, at least one member of the couple must have lived in Illinois for 90 days before filing for divorce.

2. Is an uncontested divorce the same as a joint filing?

Not necessarily. An uncontested divorce means both parties agree on the terms, while joint filing involves both spouses filing together.

3. What happens if my spouse fails to respond to the divorce petition?

If your spouse fails to respond within 30 days, the court may grant a default judgment of divorce.

4. What is the waiting period for a contested divorce in Illinois?

The waiting period for a contested divorce is a minimum of six months from the date of filing the divorce petition.

5. Can I avoid going to trial in a contested divorce?

Yes, if both parties reach an agreement, they can proceed with an uncontested divorce or consider mediation to resolve disputes.

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