As you might infer from the question, there is never a time your divorce case can truly be considered “over” or “finished”.
Before we go onto why, let’s talk about divorce procedures briefly. Illinois law governs divorces in a section of the statute called the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, Section 750 ILCS 5/101 et al. In a Chicago, Illinois divorce, a party called a Petitioner files a document titled Petition for Dissolution of Marriage to commence a dissolution (divorce) action. After all issues in a divorce case have been litigated or otherwise resolved, a Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage is entered that grants both parties a dissolution of their marriage. This Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage generally contains within it a Marital Settlement Agreement that disposes of issues related to division of assets and liabilities, and also discusses issues relating to child and spousal support, among other issues. Additionally, if there are children, an Allocation of Parenting Time and Parental Responsibilities will also be included in the Judgment for Dissolution to resolve all issues relating to custody and visitation issues.
To answer the question of when a Chicago, Illinois divorce is truly over is tricky. The law in Illinois provides that once a property settlement is entered as part of a judgment, and if you do not attempt to try to vacate it within 30 days of entry, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to try and do it after the 30 day anniversary. So the property issues in your divorce will almost conclusively be done after 30 days of the entry of your divorce judgment.
The support issues are the tricky part. Child support is always modifiable. This means that six months, or three years, or some other time period from the date of entry of the support order, you may find yourself back in court if your husband or wife petitions the court to either increase or decrease the amount of support being paid or received. This can occur until your youngest child turns eighteen or otherwise emancipates, or after much longer if you child suffers from a disability.
You can also find yourself back in court for enforcement purposes. If the Judgment awards one party certain pieces of property and the other party refuses to provide that property, then that first party may be able to go back into court to try and hold the other party in contempt of court. In such a situation, a party will look to hold the other party in indirect civil contempt. While we will get into the issues of contempt in a different article, this is another instance of being brought back into court after your divorce has technically ended and the judgment has been entered.
The children going to college also proves to be a big post-divorce event that the courts have to deal with. This massively expensive undertaking can happen over a decade after your divorce.
Most Illinois final divorce judgments where children are involved include a mediation requirement in regards to the children that reads as follows:
“In the event that the parties cannot resolve any such disputes between themselves, the parties agree that they shall enter into mediation with a mutually agreeable third party or social service agency in a serious attempt to resolve their differences. The parties shall equally share the cost of any such mediation services.
Any disputes or alleged breaches of the terms of this Agreed Allocation of Parental Responsibilities may be submitted to the court for resolution only after the parties have participated in at least two mediations or family counseling sessions. While the parties acknowledge and understand their rights to submit any such disputes to a court of competent jurisdiction, the parties understand that such litigation is frequently not in the best interests of the minor children, and agree to seek judicial intervention only as an avenue of last resort.”
So as you see above, even though you might have a document in your possession that is titled “Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage”, there might be instances where you come back to Court because you are trying to enforce something, you haven’t complied with certain orders, or one of you are looking to modify something regarding support. While these are some general issues that cause people to return to Court, it is by no means a comprehensive or an exhaustive list, so please feel free to reach out to our Chicago, Illinois law firm if you have a question and would like more information on next steps. However, unfortunately, most times, a divorce is never truly over as long as one person has an obligation to the other person or to the children in the final divorce documents or per the statute.