Contested Divorce in Illinois

In Illinois, a divorce is contested when parties can’t agree on one or more issues in the divorce. The disagreement could be about anything from marital debts to property and pets. In a contested divorce, parties first attend mediation, then take their case in front of a judge if necessary.

If you’re thinking about filing for a divorce but know your spouse won’t agree on everything, a contested divorce might be the path for you. You’ve probably heard horror stories of contested divorces lasting years long, which leaves you looking for ways to prevent your life from becoming one of those horror stories.

Don't be the classic scary movie character who everyone tells not to go into the spooky-looking house. Instead, be the person who opens the front door already knowing where the light switches are and with a team at your back.

This article sheds some light on how contested divorces look. To get a team at your back, schedule a consultation with one of our experienced divorce attorneys by calling or reaching out to Sterling Hughes.

What Is a Contested Divorce?

A contested divorce means parties disagree on something surrounding the divorce. Topics of disagreement include

  1. Who should pay debts?
  2. How is property divided?
  3. How is child custody split?
  4. Who gets the family pet?
  5. Who should pay child support and how much?
  6. Who should pay spousal support and how much?

The timeframe of the divorce depends on how long parties disagree. But, all divorces share a similar structure. The divorce can end at any stage once parties agree on all of the issues. When parties are unable to find a compromise, eventually a judge will decide for them.

The Contested Divorce Process in Illinois

Illinois is a no-fault divorce state which means it is easy to establish grounds for divorce. Under Illinois law, one party only needs to prove that “irreconcilable differences have caused the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.”[1] The easiest way to prove the marriage is broken is by living apart for 6 months.

It is important to know whether your divorce will be contested or uncontested. An uncontested divorce in Illinois is where both parties agree on all divorce proceedings. People getting uncontested divorces usually file together. For contested divorces, one party files first.

Filing a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage

A divorce begins when one party’s attorney files a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. The court calls the person that files the petitioner and the other party the respondent.

Once a spouse files this petition, they have to notify the other party by serving them the divorce papers. This is done in person, by certified mail, by a special process server, or with the help of a county sheriff.

The receiving party has 30 days to respond to the petition. They can either acknowledge the petition or file a counter-petition. A counter-petition allows the respondent to claim additional allegations. After the response, a party or their attorney may request a hearing.

Temporary Orders

Temporary orders exist because life doesn’t stop during a divorce. These orders outline things like parental responsibilities, child support, and property maintenance. They last until the end of the divorce or until a party succeeds in their motion to modify them.

If possible, parties decide on temporary orders together. If they can’t agree, the court decides for them. When this happens, each party’s attorney presents a proposal and evidence to support it.[2]

Discovery Process

In the discovery process, each party’s attorney gathers evidence from the other party. They can get any necessary information about financial and child custody issues. There are six different discovery processes used to gather information: interrogatories, depositions, subpoenas, and requests for disclosure, for production of documents, and for admissions.

Each process is different, and attorneys don’t have to use them all. Some give more concrete information like health records or account statements. Others are for more abstract information like the relationship between a parent and the child or someone’s ability to take care of a child.

Attorneys also use experts to better understand the situation. Experts are often called during the property division process to appraise marital assets. But, they are also used for less common things like evaluating a party's ability to earn an income or assessing a party's mental health.

Settlement Negotiations

The vast majority of divorce cases are settled before they reach the trial stage. Parties generally come to an agreement with the help of court-ordered mediation, their attorneys, and the desire to end their case.

Most people would rather have the ability to make decisions for themselves than take the case to court where a judge makes the final decision. That being said, sometimes a spouse refuses to agree to any sort of compromise.

Divorce Trial

If parties are unable to agree, any remaining issues will be resolved in the courtroom. There is first a pre-trial conference where parties outline the unresolved issues. Here the judge can offer suggestions of how to settle the issues right away. If the parties cannot agree on a settlement, the trial happens.

In the trial, each party’s attorney makes their arguments, presents evidence, and calls witnesses. The judge then considers the arguments and decides on the outstanding issues. Finally, the judge announces their judgment, and the divorce is ready for closing.


How Much Does It Cost To Get a Divorce in Illinois?

The cost of a divorce usually ranges between $2,500 and $25,000. It can be even cheaper if a party doesn’t use an attorney or more expensive if there are many assets, issues, and a trial.

Does It Matter Who Files for Divorce First in Illinois?

Who files first has little effect on the divorce. The most significant effect is that the divorce goes through the filer's county. Also, the person who files is called the petitioner, and the other is called the respondent. But both parties are able to provide allegations, so the difference is in name only.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does a contested divorce take in Illinois?

The average contested divorce takes about a year. One delay is the six-month waiting period to prove grounds for a contested divorce.

Usually, the biggest delay is getting parties to agree on a settlement. The faster parties can agree the faster the case ends. The time frame also depends on the court’s schedule. Depending on the county and time of year, some courts get booked up.

What happens in a contested divorce?

In a contested divorce, parties work to come to an agreement or convince the other party they are in the right. There are temporary orders, mediation sessions, discoveries, court hearings, and ultimately the trial. Most people settle their divorce before the last stage.

How long can a contested divorce last?

The supreme court of Illinois ruled that child custody matters in divorces and paternity cases “must be resolved within 18 months.”[3] So, a divorce’s custody issues can’t take more than 18 months, but property disputes could continue.

How long can a spouse drag out a divorce in Illinois?

A spouse can only really drag a divorce out to the trial. They could waste a lot of time getting there by pretending to be open to compromise, but at some point, the court will rule on the case.

Who pays for a contested divorce?

Usually, each party pays for its own attorney fees. But, when necessary, the court can order one party to pay for a reasonable amount of the other party’s fees. How a reasonable amount is determined depends on the case specifics and the judge’s ruling.

Is it worth contesting a divorce?

Only you can decide what something is worth. Some things, like time with your child, are hard to put a price tag on. But, if it is something easily quantifiable, like a car, you can assess its value. Compare the car's value to how much attorney fees would cost and see if it's worth it. You also need to account for the time and emotional stress an ongoing divorce has on a person.

References: 1. 750 ILCS 5/401 (a). Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. | 2. 750 ILCS 5/501 (a)(1). Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. | 3. Ill. S. Ct. R. 922. Time Limitations.

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