How to Serve Divorce Papers in Illinois

If you're considering filing for divorce in Illinois, you'll need to follow specific procedures to make sure the process is done correctly. As the petitioner, you'll be responsible for starting the divorce proceedings and submitting the necessary paperwork to the court.

Initiating a divorce in Illinois

To initiate a divorce in Illinois, you'll need to file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. This document explains the grounds for divorce, the relief requested (such as spousal support), and the terms of your proposed divorce settlement. You can obtain this petition from the circuit court clerk's office in your county.

Once you've filed the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with the court, your spouse will become the respondent. They will have an opportunity to respond to the petition by filing an answer, or counter-petition.

If you and your spouse can reach an agreement on all the terms of your divorce settlement – such as your marital property division, spousal support/alimony, and child support and child custody, if you have minor children – the case can be resolved without a trial. This is an uncontested divorce.

If you’re struggling to compromise on any of these issues, a mediator may be able to help. If not, however, your divorce case may be taken to trial. In that event, a judge would make the final decisions about your divorce terms.

Are you eligible to file?

Illinois courts need jurisdiction over your marriage before they can rule on it. That means you must meet the state’s very strict residency requirements.

Illinois courts can rule on divorce cases involving at least one person who has lived in the specific Illinois county where you filed for at least 90 days before filing or not less than 90 days before the final judgment is entered.

What does this mean?

If you or your spouse have lived in your Illinois county for the past 90 days, you can file for divorce now.

If you or your spouse have not lived in your Illinois county for the past 90 days, your case is paused until you meet this requirement.

These same rules apply to people serving in the armed forces. One person must be stationed in the same Illinois county for 90 days before the divorce can be finalized.

Where to file divorce papers

After completing the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, the next step is to file it with the circuit court clerk's office in the county where you or your spouse have lived for at least 90 days. This is an important first step in the divorce process. It must be done before serving divorce papers on your spouse.

When filing your divorce papers, you'll need to pay a filing fee. The dollar amount varies depending on the county where you file. 

If you meet certain income qualifications and request a fee waiver, you may be able to get your filing fee waived. It's a good idea to check the circuit court clerk's website or contact them to confirm the current fees and whether you are eligible for a fee waiver.

Read: How to Get a Divorce Filing Fee Waived

How to serve divorce papers on your spouse 

You can’t present the divorce papers to your spouse yourself, even if they know the divorce is coming. Instead, you must use a neutral third party. 

You must also keep in close contact with your court so they know you’re following all the right steps.

Suggested: How to Serve Divorce Papers in Illinois

What documents should be served?

You'll need to provide your spouse with a copy of the divorce petition and a summons. The clerk will give you a summons to serve, which includes details about what your spouse needs to do next and how long they have to reply.

How do they get served?

Bundle up one copy of the official paperwork you were given by the court, and give them to your server. That person hands the documents to your spouse and fills out an Illinois Proof of Delivery form. Once it’s filled out, your server will take the document to your court and file it.

Who should serve papers?

You have several options for serving papers.

Using a sheriff is a popular option. You could also hire a professional process server, but this isn’t always convenient. For example, if you or your spouse live in Cook County, the process server must be appointed by a judge. What’s more, professional process servers can set their own fees, and they may be too expensive for some people.

Trusted friends and family members could serve papers for you, and they’re likely to help you without a fee. To use this option, you must file a Motion to Appoint a Special Process Server, and the judge must approve it. Once that’s done, the person can hand documents to your spouse for you. However, handing off papers can be traumatic for everyone involved. This option might work best in divorces that are both expected and collaborative.

If your spouse is hard to contact or somehow uncooperative, the judge may allow an electronic method of service. The judge could allow a direct message on social media, an email, or a text message. This isn’t an option for everyone. In general, it’s best to give documents to your spouse in real time.

What if my spouse is out of state?

If your spouse is out of state, you can still serve divorce papers on them. However, the process is more complicated. You must comply with Illinois laws and any local regulations that apply to your spouse’s location.

Professional process server companies can sometimes handle these issues for you. A reputable organization can explain your options and costs and make sure it’s done right. If your spouse lives just across the border in Iowa or Missouri, for example, this could be an attractive and cost-effective option.

If your spouse lives overseas, the rules get more complicated. You must serve your spouse, but the regulations can vary widely depending on where your spouse lives, why your spouse is there, and how long your spouse has been a resident. A process server company might help, but you might also need a lawyer.

Your spouse’s next steps

After receiving the divorce papers, as mentioned, your spouse will have 30 days to respond.

If they agree with the terms you have proposed in your divorce papers, they can sign a consent form, and the divorce can proceed quickly. If your spouse objects to or wants to negotiate the terms, they can file a response.

Default divorce

If your spouse doesn't reply to the divorce petition or refuses to respond, you can request a default divorce. 

In Illinois, once a petition for divorce is served, the respondent typically has 30 days to respond. If they do not respond within that time frame or cannot be located, you may request a default judgment.

How to request a default divorce

The petitioner must file a Request for Default form with the court clerk. This form asks for a default judgment in light of the respondent’s lack of response. You will also need to provide evidence that the divorce papers were properly served on the respondent, such as an Affidavit of Service.

If the judge decides to grant the default judgment, the petitioner can then proceed with the divorce as if the respondent never answered the petition. This means the petitioner will have an easier time obtaining the divorce judgment without a trial because there is no need to negotiate or mediate any disputes.

Helpful: Illinois Divorce Forms


Can I hand my spouse the divorce paperwork myself?

No. You must use a third party to deliver (or serve) paperwork on your spouse. If you skip this step, you can’t file paperwork that will move your case forward.

Can I just ask my friend to do it for me?

You can ask your friend, but you first must ask the court. To use this option, file a Motion to Appoint a Special Process Server, The judge must approve it. 

Once that’s done, the person can hand documents to your spouse for you.

What’s the most popular way to serve papers?

Using the sheriff in your county as the process server can mean fewer steps, as you don’t need the court to approve their help. 

What if my spouse deliberately avoids being served?

If your spouse evades service, you may be able to use special techniques (such as social media private messages) to serve your spouse. However, you need special approval to use this method.

Getting help with your Illinois divorce

Initiating a divorce can be overwhelming. Hello Divorce may be able to help. Schedule a free 15-minute informational call to meet us, ask questions, and learn more.


Dissolution of Marriage/Divorce. Nineteenth Judicial Circuit Court, Lake County, Illinois.
Serving a Summons. Illinois Legal Aid Online.

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.