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 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 the county where you or your spouse have lived for at least 90 days.

Why is there a 90-day waiting period?  Illinois courts will not have jurisdiction over your divorce case unless you satisfy this residency requirement.

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. 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.

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.

How to serve divorce papers on your spouse 

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.

Working with a sheriff

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.

Using a sheriff or process server is a popular option, as it ensures that the service of the documents is done correctly. 

Once the papers are served, the server will complete and return an Affidavit of Service. You must then file the affidavit with the court to verify that your spouse has been served.

After this, your spouse has a set amount of time to respond to your petition with an agreement or a counter-petition.

What if my spouse is out of state?

If your spouse is out of state, you can still serve divorce papers on them. The process is similar: You can use certified mail, personal service, a process server, or a sheriff. However, there may be additional requirements. 

To ensure that you comply with the divorce laws of Illinois and the state where your spouse is located, it’s a good idea to partner with someone who can help you understand the rules for both states.

Your spouse’s next steps

After receiving the divorce papers, as mentioned, your spouse will have a set amount of time to respond to them.

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, you can request a default divorce. This is a type of divorce proceeding that occurs when the respondent fails or refuses to respond to the divorce petition within the required time limit. 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.

When filing for a default divorce, the petitioner must file a Request for Default form with the court clerk. This form asks the court to grant a default judgment because the respondent has not responded. 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.

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 learn more.


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