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The Steps to an Illinois Divorce

By Nottage and Ward on July 12, 2021

Divorce is not an easy process. While some couples may wish they could just rip up their marriage certificate and leave it at that, the truth is that a divorce takes months of litigation and paperwork, potentially years if one party is dragging their feet.

Knowing the important steps of a divorce in Illinois can help you prepare for the process, and help you seek out the attorney that is right for your separation needs.

Filling for Dissolution of Marriage

The person who is seeking the divorce, also known as the petitioner or the plaintiff, can begin the process by filing a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. This petition must be filed in the county where at least one of the spouses currently lives. If the two spouses still live together, then that county is the only one that the petition can be filed in. If the spouses live in two different counties, then the petition can be filed in either.

This petition notifies the court of the petitioner’s intention to seek a divorce, and needs to contain the pertinent information, such as:

  • The addresses of the spouses
  • The reason for divorce
  • The date that the relationship ended
  • Any children that resulted from the marriage

Currently, Illinois is a no-fault divorce state. This means that you do not need a specific reason for the divorce, such as adultery or abuse. Instead, you can simply stipulate that you and your spouse are no longer a viable couple (“irreconcilable differences”), and so must separate. Once you file the petition with the court, you must also serve a copy to your spouse. Even if you and your spouse have already agreed to divorce, you are still legally required to ensure that they have a copy of the petition.


Once all documents have been filed, and the initial required court appearances have been made, then the litigation process can begin. The litigation process is one of the longer steps during a divorce. This is where you and your spouse will air any disagreements that you have on how the aftermath of the divorce should look. This is also where you will have to exchange information with your spouse and your spouse’s attorney. This information will help both parties determine what they should receive in the divorce.

For example, if you want your spouse to provide spousal maintenance, then you may ask for all of his or her financial documentation, including bank statements and pay stubs. With this information, you and your attorney can determine how much spousal maintenance it is reasonable to ask for. This information-seeking process is called “discovery,” and it is key to making sure you get the best possible outcome for your divorce.

Any and every piece of information you request from your spouse could help you make sure that you get what you are entitled to. That could be child support, parenting time, or even custody of your pets. Of course, there will be multiple court appearances during the litigation of your divorce. However, the judge will not actually give his or her recommendations until the next step of the process.


During the pre-trial step, the judge will finally weigh in and offer a recommendation on how the divorce should be resolved. If you and your spouse have managed to agree on everything that was brought up in litigation, then you may not need the judge to weigh in at all. However, it is very unlikely that you will manage to agree on everything, and so a pre-trial will likely be required.

Typically, the pre-trial will be between the attorneys and the judge, and you may not even be asked to attend. During this meeting, the attorneys can try to negotiate the divorce terms to the satisfaction of both parties, which would keep you from having to go through the lengthy and expensive trial process. However, if terms cannot be agreed upon, then the divorce will move on to the trial.


A trial is typically the final step of a divorce. Not all divorces will end in trial, but it is fairly common, so you should not assume that your divorce will not require one. During the trial, you and your spouse will present your positions on what you want as the outcome of the divorce, as well as the evidence you need to back up your opinions. Evidence can include documents, photos, and even witness testimony.

Once everyone has presented their cases, the judge will make a ruling. The judge may rule fully for, partially for, or against your requests. It will depend on the evidence you provide, the evidence your spouse provides, and the skill of your attorney.

If you want to ensure that your trial has the best possible outcome, you need to work with an experienced Illinois divorce attorney from Nottage and Ward, LLP. To speak with a member of our team, call us at (312) 332-2915 today.

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