Important items to include on a divorce checklist in Illinois are financial paperwork such as pay stubs, bank accounts, and tax returns, records and inventories of property and whether they are separate or marital, and various child-related considerations. Key overall steps may include hiring a divorce attorney, filing the petition, and attending court hearings.
Important Steps to Take When Getting Ready for a Divorce
It’s critical to prepare for what is often a difficult and emotional process. Illinois residents must follow specific steps as well as general steps that apply to anyone getting a divorce.
The steps below do not necessarily have to be performed in order. For example, many people consult with an attorney before anything else, even before they discuss divorce with their spouse. This way, they can find out more about their options and what is required.
Meet the Residency Requirements Under Illinois Divorce Law
You or your spouse must have lived in Illinois for at least 90 days before the divorce can be finalized.
Do Preliminary Research
As part of your divorce checklist, read up on how to avoid common mistakes people make when divorcing, how to act on social media, the pros and cons of uncontested divorce, and how to protect your pets, among other things. For example, misbehaving could impart your custody case, so research these dos and don’ts.
Essential Paperwork for a Divorce
These documents include pay stubs, W-2s, 1099s, tax returns, bank account statements, investment statements, retirement account paperwork, and family budgets (to help establish spousal maintenance or child support amounts, if applicable). Also, collect property records such as:
- Deeds to homes, vehicles, and other property
- An inventory (list) of real and personal property with as much detail as possible, including dates of purchase
- Lists of what you classify as separate vs. marital property (in general, assets you had before marriage remain separate)
- A ranking of the assets by order of priority (which assets are most important to you to keep?)
- A list of debts secured by your property (typically, these debts are for mortgages and car loans) and a general list of debts
Make copies, preferably both physical and digital, of all of your documents.
If you have children, carve out a separate section for them on your divorce checklist. One area should relate to their best interests (usually quality time with both parents). Consider your children’s needs, and be on the lookout for common risks and behavioral problems. To estimate child support, use the Department of Healthcare and Family Services’ Child Support Estimator.
Hire a Divorce Attorney
This step is not mandatory per se, but can help you plan on a contested or uncontested divorce. A divorce attorney can take care of many divorce checklist items for you, streamline the process, and save you a good deal of time and money.
File the Petition and Serve Your Spouse
If you are initiating the process, you must file a petition for divorce in the circuit court in the county where you or your spouse lives. You must provide information about your marriage, property, and children (if applicable). Next, your spouse needs to be served appropriately under Illinois divorce law.
Take the Contested or Uncontested Approach
An uncontested divorce will proceed more smoothly and and resolve more quickly compared to an uncontested divorce. You may need to attend only one hearing in an uncontested divorce, while you could be in for many more in a contested divorce.
To avoid a contested divorce, you and your spouse should agree to work together collaboratively to iron out areas of disagreement. This is not always possible, of course.
Documents Required for an Illinois Dissolution of Marriage
A divorce settlement agreement is one of the required documents to get a divorce in Illinois. The parts of a divorce settlement agreement often include a parenting plan, child support details, asset and debt division, and tax details. It is also called a marital settlement agreement, and lays out each party’s responsibility and what happens to children, assets, debts, and property.
Judges typically approve MSAs as they are in an uncontested divorce. In a contested divorce, the parties might not be able to agree, and a judge makes the decisions for them.
Other required documents are the divorce petition itself and, in some cases, financial affidavits and petitions for temporary relief. Once you and the other party reach a settlement agreement or the judge makes final decisions at a trial, the judge finalizes the divorce and issues the final judgment of dissolution of marriage.
How a Divorce Lawyer Can Help
An experienced divorce attorney’s guidance and advocacy can be invaluable. For one thing, divorce is tough even if the split is relatively friendly. People might feel pressure to make concessions they would not otherwise, even those that conflict with their best interests. Lawyers reduce the chances of you making decisions you regret weeks, months, or years later.
Divorce lawyers may also specialize in areas such as child custody. As you’re talking with lawyers to decide which one to retain, keep a divorce checklist of questions handy. For example, common questions to ask when talking to a child custody lawyer include:
- What is your assessment of my case?
- Do you think mediation would work?
- What do you see as the most probable or realistic resolutions?
- Do you think trial is likely?
- What is the estimated timeframe for my case?
Overall, lawyers offer legal guidance, handle paperwork, protect your rights, negotiate on your behalf, and represent you in court. A lot of paperwork goes into divorce, and it is easy to get overwhelmed trying to handle it on your own. Lawyers ensure documents are filed correctly and on time. They make copies and keep neat records. Your attorney explains everything you are signing and helps you make decisions with which you are comfortable.
As far as negotiations, lawyers can help discussions go more efficiently and facilitate legally binding agreements that are fair to you. They can explain the potential consequences and outcomes of various decisions before you agree to anything.