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Illinois divorce: A basic primer

Divorce can be a complicated process, especially for those who are unfamiliar with the process. Spouses can simplify the separation greatly by familiarizing themselves with the basic principles before beginning the process. This week, then, we'll cover some of the basics of an Illinois divorce case.

Divorce cases can vary wildly, depending on the unique circumstances involved. One circumstance that can greatly affect the case is the couple's financial situation. In some cases, couples with few assets can apply for a simplified proceeding that can be handled more expeditiously. However, the standards for filing this sort of petition are quite restrictive: among other things, spouses must have no children, no real estate, a combined income of less than $35,000, and total assets of less than $10,000. Couples who do not meet these standards will need to file the much more common Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.

In the past, certain legal grounds were required to justify a divorce. In Illinois, some of these legal grounds still exist, but most divorces will simply cite "irreconcilable differences." This reflects the more modern "no-fault" divorce laws that do not require a specific reason for the separation.

Couples will then have an opportunity to reach a marital settlement agreement. This is an agreement that is made by both parties that dictates the division of the couple's assets. If both spouses are able to come to an agreement over the division of assets, the judge examines the agreement, and, unless he or she finds it to be grossly unfair to one party, ratifies it.

If the couple is unable to reach an agreement on their own, the issue is taken to trial. Divorce trials do not use juries; rather, a judge makes all decisions. In the course of the trial, all aspects of the divorce agreement may be decided upon, including the division of assets, child custody, spousal maintenance (also known as "alimony,") and the division of any debts.

In general, it is advisable to contact an attorney for assistance when pursuing a separation. An experienced attorney can offer helpful advice that relates to the couple's specific situation, and help the divorcing spouse arrive at a fair and reasonable outcome.

Source: The Madison-St. Clair Record, "The basics of a divorce case," Rita Novak, Jan. 7, 2012

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