Grounds for Divorce in Illinois

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 What Is Divorce?

Spouses who no longer wish to remain married can terminate their marriage through divorce, technically referred to as “dissolution of marriage.” Divorce is a process that ends a marriage for all legal purposes. Once the marriage is dissolved, each person is free to remarry someone else. Divorce laws differ among the states.

Divorce in the state of Illinois is governed by a law called the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA). This law covers what spouses must do in order to get divorced in Illinois.

What Are the Grounds for Divorce in Illinois?

There is only one ground for divorce in Illinois and that is irreconcilable differences. This can be referred to as “no-fault divorce.” It is defined in Illinois law as the “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage. To show that a marriage has suffered an irretrievable breakdown, a couple can show that they have lived separately for 6 months.

Or, they can simply claim that the marriage has experienced a breakdown and all efforts at reconciliation have been unsuccessful. Finally, they would have to assert that any future effort at reconciliation would not serve the best interests of the family.

What Is a Dissolution Procedure?

To end a marriage through a dissolution procedure in Illinois, the spouses have to meet several requirements as follows:

  • Residence in Illinois: At the time of filing for divorce, one spouse must have been an Illinois resident for at least 90 days before filing;
  • Establish Grounds: As noted above, the sole grounds for divorce in Illinois are irreconcilable differences that have led to the marriage irretrievably breaking down;
    • “Irretrievable breakdown” means that the spouses no longer get along with each other, and the marriage is past the point of repair;
    • If the spouses live apart for a continuous period of six months or more immediately before the date the marriage is dissolved, the “irreconcilable differences” requirement has been satisfied;
  • Attempted Reconciliation: There must have been attempts at reconciliation that have failed. If attempts at reconciliation had succeeded, the couple would not want to seek a divorce.

Of course, before a judge can enter a judgment dissolving a marriage, the court must address several issues. The majority of couples who are in the process of getting divorced may disagree about certain issues, but these disagreements are usually resolved through negotiation. With the advice and help of lawyers and the judge in the case, divorce cases are mostly settled by mutual agreement.

This is partly motivated by the fact that having a trial of the issues would be quite expensive. If the divorcing spouses cannot agree, there must be a trial, and the judge decides the issue. The judge can enter a final divorce order once all issues have been decided, whether by agreement or trial.

Before a judge can make a final judgment, the following issues must be resolved:

  • Custody of the Children of the Marriage. Here, the court must address child custody issues. Both types of custody, legal and physical, must be decided. A parent with legal custody has the right to make important life decisions on behalf of the child. These decisions include where the child goes to school and decisions concerning the child’s medical treatment and others.
    • A parent with physical custody is the parent with whom the child lives. There are a variety of possible arrangements. Parents can have shared or joint physical and legal custody. One parent can have sole physical custody and the other visitation rights. Whatever the arrangement, the parents must agree on a plan that serves the best interests of the child or children;
  • Child support. Child support payments are payments a court orders one parent to make to the other for the support of their minor child or children;
  • Spousal Maintenance: One spouse’s obligated to pay the other for a period of time after a divorce. It is sometimes referred to as “spousal support” and sometimes referred to as “alimony.” Payments are made to ensure that the spouse receiving them has a source of income.
    • Generally, the courts apply a set formula to determine the amount of spousal maintenance one spouse must pay the other. It is 33% of the paying spouse’s income minus 25% of the receiving spouse’s income = spousal maintenance. One spouse must pay the maintenance amount for a period based on the marriage’s length. The number of years is multiplied by a percentage, and the percentage rises as the length of marriage rises;
  • Distribution of Property. Property includes real property, such as houses and land, and personal property, such as money, jewelry, furniture, etc. In Illinois, the property is divided equitably. First, the court identifies all marital property. The court then divides the marital property equitably or in the manner it thinks is most fair under all the circumstances. This does not necessarily mean dividing it equally.

What Is the Joint Simplified Dissolution Procedure?

A joint simplified dissolution procedure is another way of getting a divorce in Illinois. In a joint simplified divorce, the parties agree to a divorce and come to a mutually acceptable agreement regarding all of the issues involved. This is what makes possible a speedier resolution of the process. It takes less time than a regular dissolution procedure.

In a joint simplified dissolution, the spouses, together, file a petition for simplified dissolution. To obtain a divorce in a joint simplified dissolution proceeding, the parties must meet the following requirements:

  • Waiver of the Right to Spousal Support: Neither party depends on the other for support, and both parties agree to waive any right to support that they may have;
  • Aware of Eligibility for Spousal Support: Each spouse is aware that meeting with a lawyer might help them determine whether they are eligible for support;
  • Resident of Illinois: When the petition is filed, one spouse has been a resident of Illinois for at least 90 days before filing for dissolution;
  • Irreconcilable Differences: The spouses agree that Irreconcilable differences have resulted in the marriage irretrievably breaking down;
  • Reconciliation Attempted and Failed: There were attempts at reconciliation, but they failed;
  • No Children: During the marriage, the spouses did not have children and did not adopt children;
  • Length of Marriage Limitation: The marriage must have lasted for less than 8 years;
  • No Real Estate: Neither spouse owns real estate;
  • No Retirement Benefits: Neither spouse has an interest in retirement benefits except for individual retirement accounts, or IRAs, whose total value is under ten thousand dollars;
  • Total Fair Market Value of $50,000: The total fair market value of all of the property the spouses own is less than $50,000;
  • Annual Combined Gross Income Limit: The combined annual gross income of the spouses is less than $60,000;
  • Individual Gross Income Limit: Neither spouse has a gross income that is above $30,000.00;
  • Full Disclosure Made: The spouses have made full disclosure of all assets, liabilities, and tax returns to each other; This disclosure must be made for each year the spouses were married;
  • Agreement in Writing Regarding Division of Assets: The parties have agreed in writing to divide all assets with a value of more than $100; and
  • Agreement in Writing Regarding Pet Custody: The parties have agreed in writing on a plan to deal with ownership of any companion animals.

What If I Cannot Afford to Pay a Lawyer?

A new rule went into effect in Illinois in 2022. It provides that one spouse can request that the court order the other spouse to pay the lawyer’s cost for the requesting spouse. The goal is to ensure that both spouses have legal representation.

An additional new rule gives a parent the right to ask the court to allow them to relocate the children’s residence during the divorce proceedings. The parent represents that the relocation would serve the children’s best interest. Also, in every case where one parent alleges abuse or neglect, the court must appoint a special advocate to do an independent investigation and report all findings to the court.

Do I Need the Help of a Lawyer to Get a Divorce in Illinois?

If you are considering ending your marriage, contact an Illinois divorce lawyer.

An experienced divorce lawyer can advise you of your rights and explain your options. Also, the lawyer can represent you in court proceedings if necessary.


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