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The Typical Divorce Process in Illinois

HomeThe Typical Divorce Process in Illinois

The Typical Divorce Process in Illinois

1. Initial Consultation

Consult with an attorney at least one week prior to needing to initiate any action.

Prospective clients contemplating any matrimonial or family law service, whether that be a premarital agreement, divorce, paternity, custody, or post-decree, initial consultation with an experienced attorney in the field can provide you with necessary and insightful information about Illinois law, the process, the timing, the cost and information relative to the facts of each unique case. The initial consultation also helps you determine whether or not the law firm is a good fit for what you are seeking, both legally and personally. You want to feel comfortable working with the lawyer and law firm that you select, as you will be working with them throughout the entire process, which could last months or years.

2. Commencing a Case

Signing off on an engagement letter, information intake sheet and payment of a retainer formalize the attorney-client relationship to commence a case or initiate any action with the court.

To officially begin the process of commencing a case, your engagement of the law firm happens once you provide the necessary information, documentation and signatures on select documents provided to you after the initial consultation. Once your file is opened with our offices, typically on the same day that the paperwork is received, an attorney-client relationship is formed. We will oftentimes then discuss specific strategy for your case to ensure the most cost-effective, swift and amicable process can hopefully occur. If that is not possible, then we will also discuss the steps for litigation and our recommendations throughout that process. Furthermore, for example, a divorce case is then commenced when the initiating pleading is e-filed with the court, which is a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, which states facts and pleads what you want under the statutory requirements such as residency, non-martial allocation, marital allocation of assets and debts, maintenance, child support, parenting time, decision-making and the like.

3. Compiling financials, discovering information and researching facts

Completion and exchange of financial affidavits, preparations of balance sheets, calculations of support, and issuance of formal discovery.

Completion and exchange of financial affidavits, preparations of balance sheets, calculations of support, and issuance of formal discovery
One of the key components of any case is full financial disclosure by both sides. In fact, Illinois now has one form that is utilized in all Counties for each party to individually complete, which is called a Financial Affidavit. This Financial Affidavit details monthly income, expenses, overall assets, debts, insurance and the like. It is utilized for all aspects of the case, including in conjunction with the required supporting financial documents, such as income tax returns, pay stubs, bank statements, and the like in calculating support. Many law firms will agree to an informal exchange of this financial information to avoid costly formal discovery issuance. The formal discovery that may have to be issued contains interrogatories and notice to produce. Other types of disclosure can include valuations, appraisals, forensic accounting and the like.

4. Discussing parenting plans and decision making, if minor children are involved

These two components are key aspects to an allocation judgment.

Illinois no longer recognizes “custody” in divorce and paternity cases, however, the final Allocation Judgment that must be entered includes specific parenting time for each parent and specific decision-making capabilities for each parent on key issues pertaining to the minor children, such as health, education, religion and extra-curricular activities. Discussing what you believe to be in the best interest of the minor children is a key component of this process.

5. Discussing settlement and legalities

Reviewing settlement options with the client to discuss global settlement of terms taking Illinois law into consideration.

Once Financial Affidavits and supporting financial document is exchanged, formally or informally, then support calculations can be completed, balance sheets finalized and settlement discussions can be fruitful and fully informed. The only way for a settlement to occur is for both parties to reach a comprehensive agreement on the terms so that the attorneys can prepare the marital settlement agreement outlining the mutual understanding for future presentation to the court. Settlement discussions take finesse, patience and expertise about the laws, the history and facts of the case, and the financial picture. With decades of experience in this field, our team knows how to negotiate, mediate and litigate any case to conclusion.

6. Discussing alternatives to litigation: mediation

If there remain items of concern then sometimes mediation will allow the parties to reach an agreement outside of the courtroom.

If there remains any contested family law matter that cannot be resolved in a case, the court will order mediation of the parties before proceeding to litigation. The mediation options include court-appointed free mediation or the parties can enroll in private mediation with a family law expert (such as a retired Judge) at their own cost. Oftentimes, our clients select private mediation hoping for more timely meetings held more often with a higher likelihood of success. Our legal team can guide you through the mediation process by ensuring that you are fully informed of your rights and the laws as they apply to the terms you are discussing in mediation.

7. Court proceedings: status, temporary hearings and pre-trial conferences

Court intervention can occur at any stage wherein the parties are unable to reach an agreement.

Every case is eventually set for a status, wherein the Judge has the attorneys appear in court to provide a “status” on what is going on in the case to ensure that it is moving forward. In some cases, certain matters such as support, attorneys’ fees, or parenting time must be addressed during the divorce process. A temporary relief hearing can occur at any stage of the process, requesting that the Judge rule and enter an order on a specific issue on a temporary basis. Another court proceeding that can be expected, if needed, is a pre-trial conference wherein the parties each present their case or outstanding issues to the Judge in chambers to obtain the Judge’s input and recommendations on how to proceed in an effort to avoid the costly and time-consuming trial.

8. Preparations of Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage/Marital Settlement Agreement

Formalization of settlement terms for entry by the Judge.

Once settlement terms are reached, the attorneys prepare many documents to prepare for the finalization of the case, including the Marital Settlement Agreement, which specifically outlines the mutual understanding of the parties in regards to all terms. This Agreement includes things such as support, non-martial and marital property allocation, maintenance, attorneys’ fees and taxes.

9. Preparations of Allocation Judgment, if minor children are involved

Formalization of parenting time and decision-making for entry by the Judge.

Once the parties have reached a mutual agreement in regards to parenting time and decision-making then the attorneys prepare an all-encompassing Allocation Judgment outlining those terms for entry by the Judge.

10. Prove-Up (day of your divorce) or setting the case for Trial

The parties either proceed to prove-up or the next stage is preparations in setting the case for trial, including formal discovery completion, depositions, subpoenas, witness lists, expert reports and the like.

At this juncture, the case is either settled, comprehensively, and the parties are scheduled for a prove-up before the Judge (day of the divorce) to present the documents that were prepared by their respective attorneys, which typically includes the Marital Settlement Agreement, Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage, Allocation Judgment, Uniform Order for Support and the like. The Judge will review the documents provided and the attorneys will present the requisite information to the Judge, via testimony, and then the Judge will rule. If the case does not settle, then the case will be set for trial. This process will be long, costly and arduous. The trial preparation and process typically includes formal discovery, pre-trial conferences, case management conferences and orders, depositions, subpoenas, expert witnesses and reports, valuations, and appraisals all for presentment to the Judge at trial where he will hear both sides, extensively, and then make a Judgment based upon his ruling.

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