Uncontested divorce in Illinois vs. contested divorce

Learn about the differences between contested and uncontested divorce in Illinois and find out which option is right for you.

What's Inside

What's Inside

The number of divorces in Illinois each year has steadily decreased since 2000. In fact, Illinois had one of the lowest divorce rates in the country in 2021, at 1.3 divorces per 1,000 total population. Nevertheless, that still adds up to thousands of divorces each year. 

Those wishing to end their marriage in Illinois have two main options: contested divorce and uncontested divorce. If you have no idea what those mean, read on. This guide shares important information, including the differences between contested and uncontested divorce in Illinois and which one may make the most sense for your situation. 

Contested vs. uncontested divorce

In an uncontested divorce—sometimes referred to as mutual divorce—the parties jointly agree to all essential issues related to their separation. This includes agreement on topics such as: 

  • Division of assets and debts
  • Child custody
  • Visitation
  • Child support
  • Spousal support (sometimes referred to as spousal maintenance or alimony)

Conversely, a contested divorce is one in which the parties are unable to reach an agreement on all key issues underlying the divorce. If they disagree on even one of the topics above, the divorce is contested.

Contested vs. uncontested divorce in Illinois: Key differences

The definitions of these divorces only scratches the surface of their differences. Below are four key points to keep in mind when considering whether to seek a contested or uncontested divorce in Illinois. 

1. Illinois divorce process

The primary steps in an uncontested divorce in Illinois are as follows: 

  • One spouse (the petitioner) drafts and files the petition for dissolution of marriage with the court.
  • The petitioner serves the petition on their spouse (the respondent) to formally notify them of the divorce proceedings.
  • The respondent responds to the lawsuit by completing and filing an answer.
  • Both parties work together collaboratively to prepare a divorce settlement agreement outlining the terms of their divorce.
  • The parties submit the agreement to the court for review and approval.
  • If the court approves the agreement, it enters it as an order of the court and issues the final decree for dissolution, formally ending the marriage.

Uncontested divorce forms are mostly the same as contested divorce forms when it comes to initiating the process. Thus, the contested divorce process begins similarly, with the filing and service of the petition for dissolution of marriage (either with children or without children), followed by an answer filed by the respondent. After that, the processes differs and typically involves the following: 

  • The court may issue temporary orders (also called pendente lite orders) to address urgent matters such as child custody and financial support while the divorce takes place.
  • The parties conduct discovery: They request and exchange information that may be used later in support of their respective cases.
  • The parties and their legal counsel (if they choose to work with one) may negotiate, possibly attending mediation, in an effort to reach an agreement on any outstanding disputed issues.
  • The parties attend hearings and, if settlement isn’t feasible, a trial where they present their evidence and arguments in court.
  • The court issues a final judgment (or divorce decree) regarding all key terms of the divorce.

2. Level of court involvement

Overall, uncontested divorce in Illinois generally has less court involvement than contested divorce in the state. The parties prepare their agreement together outside of the court, then they submit it for approval. Before the court finalizes the divorce, the parties (or, at minimum, the person who filed for divorce) need to attend a “prove up” hearing. At the hearing, the parties confirm that they agree to the terms of their settlement. The court then reviews the parties’ agreement for reasonableness and formally enters it as an order of the court to finalize the divorce. Otherwise, the court’s overall involvement is quite limited.

In contrast, the court is involved at various stages in the contested divorce process. This often includes: 

  • Entering temporary orders
  • Ruling on motions
  • Presiding over hearings
  • Resolving evidentiary issues prior to trial
  • Evaluating evidence and testimony at trial
  • Entering a final judgment 

3. Length of proceedings

Compared to contested divorces, uncontested divorces in Illinois usually require less time from start to finish. It’s not uncommon for uncontested cases to be resolved in a matter of months.

Contested divorces typically take longer to resolve due to the lack of agreement between the parties and added involvement from the courts. Contested divorces in Illinois often take 18 months or longer to reach a final resolution. 

That said, the overall length of the legal proceedings in any given divorce case depends on a variety of factors, such as the complexity of the case, the level of cooperation between the parties and whether children are involved.

4. Cost

Due to the shortened proceedings, lower level of court involvement and general simplification of the legal process, uncontested divorces in Illinois are often much less costly than contested divorces.

Comparatively, contested divorces frequently require additional costs due to: 

  • Filing fees for documents beyond the petition 
  • Discovery costs, such as document request fees, copying charges and deposition fees 
  • Mediation expenses 
  • Expert witness fees
  • Custody evaluations

Attorney fees are another expense to consider for any divorce. Because contested divorces are often lengthier, more complex and more litigious, they often require more attorney time, leading to greater legal fees compared to uncontested divorces. Currently, estimated attorney fees for uncontested divorce in Illinois are $4,000 to $5,000, while attorney fees for a contested divorce in the state may rise to more than $20,000.

Contested or uncontested divorce in Illinois: Which one should I pursue? 

Ultimately, the decision of whether to pursue a contested or uncontested divorce comes down to your ability to cooperate with your spouse and reach an amicable agreement on the terms of your divorce. If you can, uncontested divorce may be an option. If not, your only option is a contested divorce. 

How an attorney may help

Regardless of whether your divorce is contested or uncontested, you may find it beneficial to have legal counsel on your side.

If your divorce is uncontested, an experienced Illinois divorce attorney may help you prepare your petition for dissolution of marriage and file it with the court. Then they can work with you, your spouse and their legal counsel to prepare a mutually agreeable settlement agreement that addresses all terms of your divorce. 

If your divorce is contested, an attorney may also help you gather evidence and information in support of your claims and prepare for and take your case to trial in an effort to obtain a fair and favorable divorce resolution. 

Or if you have questions about the differences between uncontested and contested divorce in Illinois and which option makes the most sense for your situation, a family law and divorce attorney can discuss your options in more detail. 

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Frequently asked questions

What is an uncontested divorce? 

An uncontested divorce is a legal proceeding to terminate a marriage in which there are no disputes between the spouses regarding the terms of the divorce. The issues that must be addressed typically include division of property, child custody, child support and alimony. Importantly, the parties must be able to agree on all key aspects of the divorce. If they can’t come to an agreement on even one issue, the divorce will be considered contested.

How long does an uncontested divorce take? 

An uncontested divorce may be completed in as little as a few months. The exact amount of time varies from case to case depending on a variety of factors.

What is the cost of an uncontested divorce in Illinois? 

At minimum, an uncontested divorce in Illinois costs several hundred dollars to initiate. For example, in Cook County, the fee for filing a petition for dissolution of marriage is currently $388, and the cost to have the petition served on the opposing party by the county sheriff is currently $60. However, these costs vary from case to case depending on the county in which you file, whether you use a local sheriff or private process server and the complexity of the case. You may also wish to hire an attorney or mediator to help you negotiate with your spouse and write a legal agreement to submit to the court. Thus, even in an uncontested divorce, it’s not uncommon for the total cost to exceed the amount of the initial filing and service fees.

Do I need a lawyer to file for an uncontested divorce in Illinois? 

You don’t need a lawyer to file for an uncontested divorce in Illinois. The Illinois court system offers a variety of approved statewide forms that may be used by individuals who are unrepresented in their divorce proceedings. Nevertheless, even in an uncontested divorce, having the assistance of legal counsel may be advantageous as you navigate the complexities of the legal process.

Disclaimer: This article is provided as general information, not legal advice, and may not reflect the current laws in your state. It does not create an attorney-client relationship and is not a substitute for seeking legal counsel based on the facts of your circumstance. No reader should act based on this article without seeking legal advice from a lawyer licensed in their state.

This page includes links to third party websites. The inclusion of third party websites is not an endorsement of their services.

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