The timeline for the divorce decree to be finalized depends on the specifics of each individual case. There are three main tracks that a divorce can follow, starting with the simplest and going up to the most complex.
These are the simplest divorce cases. There are no children from the marriage or large assets such as a house or retirement account. There may be smaller assets, such as a car or low debts.
These cases can be resolved quickly, averaging around three months. They can be done quicker than this, but both parties need to come up with an agreement with most of the things drafted, before it can be filed.
The first step in any divorce case is to draft a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, file the petition, and then serve the respondent with the filed petition.
The respondent can waive their right to service if they choose, which can save time and money.
However, our office always recommends serving the respondent in any case, because failing to do so can result in major setbacks to your case. If the respondent signs a waiver in the meantime, you can proceed from this point, but it is better to protect your timeline whenever possible.
After the respondent is served, you then go on to draft the Marital Settlement Agreement and the Judgment for Dissolution. These documents must be signed and approved by both parties. Once they are, you can then submit a certification and stipulation called the Motion for an Uncontested Hearing. This essentially tells the judge that you don’t want to take your case to trial and that you want to proceed with the agreed terms.
Once this is filed, the court will give you a date to appear. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some of these hearings are held via Zoom. In any case, you will speak with the judge, and they or the attorneys will ask you a variety of yes or no questions pertaining to your divorce agreement.
When this proceeding has finished, the judge will finalize your divorce.
From that point, both clients have fulfilled all of their responsibilities, but the attorneys have to do two other things.
First, they must submit the transcript of the proceedings, so there’s a record of text of what happened during that hearing.
Next, they must submit to the court the Certification for Dissolution which the court submits to the Department of Vital Records. This notifies the Department of Vital Records in Illinois that your marriage has been officially dissolved.
Those last two steps also apply to the two remaining tracks.
Track two cases are the next most complicated divorce cases. This may involve larger assets such as a house, a retirement account, a small business, or perhaps some larger debts.
These cases require a period of discovery when submitting documents. For financial documents, there’s a form called a Financial Disclosure Affidavit that everybody must complete, sign, and provide documents that support what you list as your income, expenses, assets, and debts. These documents include: your last two years of tax returns, federal and state 1040s, your most recent W2, and your last six months of checking and banking statements.
(If you’re found to have been untruthful in these documents, you may be held in contempt of court. This could involve a fine, or in some rare cases, jail time.)
If there are additional assets to consider, your attorney will submit a Notice to Produce and a Request for Response to interrogatories. Interrogatories are questions you must answer under oath as well as further documents to submit.
Each side is entitled to requests for information during the period of discovery. If the other side asks something of us, we’ll ask for the same thing in return, and back and forth.
At this point, your attorney’s role shifts to resemble more of an accountant than a lawyer because of the time spent pouring through financial documents.
After this stage has been completed, your attorney will draft a settlement agreement and confirm that both parties agree to its terms.
Very often, this is only the first step in a longer process, because people usually don’t agree on the initial settlement terms. The next step in this case would be to schedule a pre-trial conference and that’s when your attorney will put together a memorandum.
Each judge has a specific preference for the format of these memorandums. Therefore, it is important that your attorney has a history working with the assigned so judge so that the judge’s specific preferences are met in order to find a favorable outcome. Poor formatting, or using the wrong format altogether, of the memorandum may result in a poor recommendation in the pre-trial conference.
A pre-trial conference is held in judges’ chambers, without the clients present. This allows attorneys and judges to have a frank conversation regarding the terms of the case and receive from the judge a recommendation of how they may rule in regards to certain terms you may be looking for.
After the pre-trial conference, an attorney will come back to their client with the recommendation from the judge and their opinion of suitable options moving forward.
You may find yourself in a position where you may be able to “win” a specific term you are looking for in the agreement. However, the “win” may be in the amount of less than the investment you would have to make in order to get it. For example: you may have a 100% likelihood of success but it would cost you $10,000 for the benefit of an extra $2,000. That investment would clearly not make sense.
Our firm does not prioritize settlements on recommendations. Often, clients walk away feeling like they got the short end of the stick and are rarely happy with the outcomes. In contrast, we often find that even when clients find less favorable outcomes at trial, they feel satisfied because they were able to see their day in court and have an opportunity to argue for what they wanted.
Although this is the case for the majority of our clients, some people are uncomfortable with pursuing a trial because they want to have more control of the outcome. Therefore, they’ll choose to settle before leaving it up to a third party (the judge) to make a decision.
After all these steps have been completed and an agreement is finally reached, we then go through the same process mentioned in the first track above. A Motion for an Uncontested Hearing is filed to finalize the agreements and divorce, and all other above-mentioned steps into place.
If there is not an agreement through the settlement, the parties go to trial.
In this case, the judge will put the case on the trial track to ensure that both parties have completed all discovery, exchanging of documents, interrogatories, depositions, and requests. Each and every of these items have to be completed within a certain timeframe.
Throughout this process, it is important to keep in mind that the outcome of the case may not be 100% in your favor as a judge will make the final determination on the terms of your divorce, and this is helpful to prepare for.
Third track cases involve all the assets mentioned in first and second-track cases, with the added concern that there are children involved. Not only is it money in question, it’s also emotion and parenting and these sorts of bonds can be toyed with and stressed.
Unfortunately, this can be a painful procedure, and our attorneys do their best to get their clients through this process to start their new life and journey to a happy future. It is important to keep in mind the stress this can cause, and to be as emotionally prepared for this as possible.
As a licensed social worker, I recommend that my clients see a counselor during this process as well.
When children are involved, there are other steps included in your divorce proceedings. This includes mediation to determine custody and visitation. There are effective mediators and mediators that are difficult to deal with. Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to reach a custody agreement through mediation, in which case you’ll be on the path to settlement that has been described in the previous two tracks.
If you are unable to cooperate with each other, co-parent, and be friendly when discussing the parenting of your children, it will quite literally cost you. It is important to be prepared for this if you are unwilling or unable to come to an agreement.
If mediation fails, the court will appoint a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL), who is another attorney. This involvement of a third attorney can cause fees to skyrocket.
The Guardian Ad Litem will perform an investigation and write a report that each party’s attorneys can use to cross-examine at trial.
The GAL will also write a recommendation, and that recommendation is followed by judges 90% of the time. Because of this, picking the Guardian Ad Litem is crucial. In fact, it’s possibly the most important part of any custody trial.
After custody is determined, child support must be resolved. This tends to be a contentious part of divorce proceedings because few people tend to want to pay child support. These matters are handled entirely separately from matters of custody and visitation, however they are informed by parenting plans and custody arrangements.
The amount of custody or visitation that one parent has in comparison to the other does not generally affect the amount of child support that may be due. The only exception to this may be in cases wherein parents have equal visitation or custody rights.
Most importantly, it is important to know that parents are not able to use parenting time or custody payments as markers of responsibility for the other. People may find themselves wondering why they are ordered to pay child support when they are not able to see their kids. However, the court statutorily doesn’t care whether that feels right or wrong, it cares about what the statute says.
Just like in divorce cases where assets cannot be decided in a settlement, if you are not able to come to an agreement on custody and visitation, there will be a trial to make those decisions.
These trials tend to be long and very tumultuous. This is in part because many witnesses and forms of evidence are usually brought in. There may be the testimony of doctors, expert witnesses, teachers, and family members attesting to who is the best parent for the child to be with for the majority of the time.
These proceedings may last for two or three days and can get quite costly, especially if you’re paying extra witness fees.
After the custody trial, the judge will make a decision called an Allocation Judgment. This judgment dictates which parent or parents are responsible for decisions concerning “the big four”. This refers to who gets to make the primary decisions about education, extracurricular activities, religious upbringing and medical needs.
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