Contested Divorce in Illinois

When divorcing spouses can't agree on key issues regarding their divorce settlement, the divorce becomes a contested one. If you’re looking at a contested divorce, you may already be feeling the stress of it. We’re here to help.

You’ll feel more secure if you understand your rights and obligations in this type of divorce. Read on to learn more.

Why might you need a contested divorce in Illinois?

First, let’s explore some of the most common reasons behind contested divorce.

Reluctance from one spouse

The first and most obvious reason for contested divorce is that one spouse does not want the divorce. 

This could be due to emotional, financial, or other reasons. Even if both parties agree that the marriage is over, one might oppose the divorce out of fear of change or uncertainty about the future.

Disputes over the division of assets and debts

Disagreements may arise over how to divide marital assets and debts. This could include everything from the family home and cars to retirement accounts and credit card debt. If spouses can't agree on who should get what, a judge will have to make the decision for them.

Child custody battles

Disputes over child custody and visitation rights can be among the most contentious aspects of a divorce. Both parents may believe they should have primary custody, leading to a heated legal battle.

Business ownership

If you and your spouse co-own a business, determining who gets to keep the business or how its value should be divided can be complex and contentious, necessitating a contested divorce.

Lack of trust

If you don't trust your spouse to be honest about their assets, income, or debts, a contested divorce allows for formal discovery processes. These can uncover hidden assets or other untruths that can affect the outcome of the divorce.

Abuse or violence

In cases of domestic abuse or violence, a contested divorce can help ensure that the victim does not have to maintain contact with the abuser. Through protective orders and other legal measures, the court can provide a level of safety and security.

What does the contested divorce process look like in Illinois?

Contested divorces in Illinois follow a specific process. Here's a step-by-step overview.

Step 1: File for divorce

The first step is to file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with the circuit court in your county. This document spells out the grounds for divorce and what you hope to happen concerning your marital property division, child custody, and other issues.

Step 2: Serve your spouse

After filing, you must serve the divorce papers to your spouse, who will have to respond. If their response is uncooperative or disagrees with your divorce petition, it further confirms that your divorce will be contested.

Step 3: Share important information

Both parties are required to disclose financial information, including income, assets, debts, and expenses. In Illinois, this should be done within 30 days of the respondent's answer or within any other period set by the court.

Step 4: File temporary orders

You can file temporary orders while the divorce is ongoing. These may cover issues like child support, spousal maintenance, child custody, and property possession. These orders remain in effect until the divorce is finalized.

Step 5: Negotiate an agreement

Negotiation can be challenging in a contested divorce, which is why it's often contested in the first place. You may need help from a mediator, arbitrator, or your lawyers. In fact, Illinois courts often require couples to attempt mediation. If an agreement cannot be reached, the negotiation process can extend the duration of the divorce.

Step 6: Go to court

If negotiations fail, the case goes to trial. Each side presents their case, and the judge makes the final decision on all contested issues.

Step 7: File the final paperwork

Once the judge has made a decision, the final divorce decree is drafted, reflecting the judge's rulings. Both parties sign this document, and it is filed with the court, marking the formal end of the marriage.

Will you need to go through divorce discovery?

Divorce discovery is a process where each spouse collects information and evidence to support their case. This can involve interrogatories (written questions that must be answered under oath), depositions, document requests, and subpoenas for records.

You might need to go through divorce discovery in the following situations:

Discrepancies in financial disclosure: If there are inconsistencies or suspicions about your spouse's financial disclosure, discovery can help reveal hidden assets, undisclosed income, or understated liabilities.

Child custody disputes: In child custody battles, discovery can provide evidence about a parent's ability to care for a child, such as their mental health history, criminal records, or proof of substance abuse.

Business valuation: If you or your spouse own a business, discovery can help determine its true value, which is essential for equitable property division.

Lifestyle analysis: In cases of alimony or child support, discovery can shed light on the couple's standard of living during the marriage, helping establish a fair support amount.

How long does a contested divorce take in Illinois?

The duration of a contested divorce in Illinois often takes several months to over a year. While divorce laws in Illinois don’t impose a mandatory waiting period for divorce, several factors can extend the length of your divorce proceedings.

Mandatory separation

Illinois requires a six-month separation period before granting a divorce on no-fault grounds. If both parties agree to the divorce, this period can be waived.

Negotiation and mediation

If you and your spouse struggle to reach an agreement on key issues, negotiation and mediation can add significant time to the divorce process.

Litigation and arbitration

If negotiations fail, you may need to go to court or arbitration, which can delay the process due to court schedules and the complexity of legal proceedings.

Court dates

Scheduling court dates can depend on the court's calendar and availability, which can further extend the timeline.

How much does a contested divorce cost?

The cost of a contested divorce depends on the complexity of your case and the professional services you require. One part of these costs is the filing fee, which is around $400.

In addition to the filing fee, attorney fees contribute significantly to the overall cost. Attorneys typically charge an hourly rate, which can range from $200 to $500 or more. The total cost of a divorce can vary widely, with many sources suggesting an average price tag of around $15,000.

Can I switch from a contested to an uncontested divorce?

Yes, it's possible to switch from a contested to an uncontested divorce. This usually happens when both parties reach an agreement on all contested issues. Mediation can play a critical role in this process.

Mediation involves a neutral third party who helps the divorcing spouses communicate and negotiate. The mediator doesn't make decisions but rather facilitates dialogue and proposes solutions to help the parties find common ground.

Can we help you and your spouse compromise on tough settlement issues? We offer flat-fee hourly mediation for that purpose. Click here to read more.

In Illinois, couples are often required to attempt mediation before going to court. Successful mediation can save time, reduce stress, and lower the cost of divorce by avoiding a lengthy court battle. Even if you start with a contested divorce, with open communication and willingness to compromise, it's possible to transition to an uncontested divorce.

Divorce Content Specialist & Lawyer
Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Legal Insights

Bryan is a non-practicing lawyer, HR consultant, and legal content writer. With nearly 20 years of experience in the legal field, he has a deep understanding of family and employment laws. His goal is to provide readers with clear and accessible information about the law, and to help people succeed by providing them with the knowledge and tools they need to navigate the legal landscape. Bryan lives in Orlando, Florida.