Posted on March 24, 2022

Are Divorce Records Public In Illinois?

No one is proud to get a divorce. People are even less excited to have their personal life described in writing and subsequently filed in a public government building. Are divorce records public and accessible in Illinois?

Divorces in Illinois are started by filing the Petition For Dissolution Of Marriage with the clerk of court.

“Every action, unless otherwise expressly provided by statute, shall be commenced by the filing of a complaint. The clerk shall issue summons upon request of the plaintiff.” 735 ILCS 5/2-201

Divorces petitions include several intimate details.

“The complaint or petition for dissolution of marriage or legal separation shall be verified and shall minimally set forth:(1) the age, occupation and residence of each party and his length of residence in this State;(2) the date of the marriage and the place at which it was registered;(2.5) whether a petition for dissolution of marriage is pending in any other county or state;(3) that the jurisdictional requirements of subsection (a) of Section 401 have been met and that irreconcilable differences have caused the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage;(4) the names, ages and addresses of all living children of the marriage and whether a spouse is pregnant;(5) any arrangements as to support, allocation of parental responsibility of the children and maintenance of a spouse; and(6) the relief sought.” 750 ILCS 5/403(a)

All of these details are available from the Circuit Clerk upon request.

All records, dockets and books required by law to be kept by such clerks shall be deemed public records, and shall at all times be open to inspection without fee or reward, and all persons shall have free access for inspection and examination to such records, docket and books, and also to all papers on file in different clerks’ offices and shall have the right to take memoranda and abstracts thereof.” 750 ILCS 105/16(6)

Subsequent to the pleading for divorce are the motions, orders and final judgments which are rife with personal details otherwise…how could they ever be understood?

The one thing that won’t be found in a court file is the actual discovery.

“No discovery may be filed with the clerk of the circuit court except by order of court. Local rules shall not require the filing of discovery. Any party serving discovery shall file a certificate of service of discovery document.” Ill. Sup. Ct. R. 201(m)

Discovery is the request for and turn-over of relevant items from the other party or a third party for the purpose of later presenting one’s divorce case. In a divorce action, discovery is usually financial information or information that is unflattering to the other party as a parent.

Even documents that describe other discovery like the financial affidavit shall not be included in an Illinois divorce’s court file.

The completed financial affidavit must not be filed with the Clerk of the Circuit Court, unless ordered by the court.

In a custody battle, some of the most intimate insights into a family’s dynamic may be memorialized and filed in a public Illinois domestic relations case.

“The guardian ad litem shall testify or submit a written report to the court regarding his or her recommendations in accordance with the best interest of the child. The report shall be made available to all parties.” 750 ILCS 5/506(a)(2)

No one is going to want their neighbor to read their divorce petition, a motion describing their financial situation or parenting struggles and especially not a third party’s assessment of them as a parent. In this day and age, a busybody does not even have to go to a courthouse to investigate the intimate details of your divorce. Anyone can access public divorce records with just the click of a button through the internet (except in Cook County where only registered lawyers can do this…for now)

Keeping Illinois Divorce Records Private By Sealing Court Records

At any time in the process of an Illinois divorce (or after) an Illinois divorce litigant can request that their divorce file be sealed.

“[T]he liberality of pretrial discovery permitted under the rules presents an opportunity for litigants to obtain — incidentally or purposefully — information that is not only irrelevant but if publicly released could be damaging to reputation or privacy. It is therefore necessary for the trial court to have authority to issue protective orders to prevent abuse of its processes.” Skolnick v. Altheimer Gray, 303 Ill. App. 3d 27, 32 (Ill. App. Ct. 1999)

In order to seal a divorce file, an Illinois divorce court must find a “compelling interest” in order to seal the divorce file.

“Whatever the basis for th[e] preference [for sealing]— facilitating settlement, desire for privacy, possible embarrassment of the parties — such preference can never demonstrate the compelling interest required to overcome the strong presumption in favor of total access to all documents of whatever nature in a court file. The only documents that could meet that “compelling interest” standard are those which are both privileged and potentially seriously damaging or embarrassing to the person holding the privilege.” In re Marriage of Johnson, 232 Ill. App. 3d 1068, 1075-76 (Ill. App. Ct. 1992)

Once sealed, court records stay sealed until further order of court.

“Cases and documents within a case identified as impounded, sealed, secured or otherwise confidential in the circuit court shall remain as such when filed in the reviewing courts, and the parties of record shall have the same level of access, if any.” Ill. Sup. Ct. R. 371

Encouraging Privacy Of Court Documents By Agreement

Alternatively, the parties can agree to file documents in their absolute most minimal form.

This is going to require the parties to cooperate in being vague at every step of the process. At any moment, either party can demand that the pleadings or motions become specific (have written uncomfortable details) as required by law.

“Pleadings to be specific. (a) Every answer and subsequent pleading shall contain an explicit admission or denial of each allegation of the pleading to which it relates” 735 ILCS 5/2-610

“All objections to pleadings shall be raised by motion. The motion shall point out specifically the defects complained of” 735 ILCS 5/2-615

Orders can be issued much more liberally with little to no facts listed upon which the court order is based (if requested by the parties and agreed to by the divorce judge).

“It is not always necessary that the facts on which an order is based be set out as such in the body of the order.” Jones v. Jones, 48 Ill. App. 2d 232, 235 (Ill. App. Ct. 1964)

Most orders and judgments in an Illinois divorce are agreed contracts such as a Marital Settlement Agreement or an Allocation of Parenting Time and Parental Responsibilities. These contracts can be included in the agreement/order by reference. To “reference” is to say they are referred to in the order but not formally (and, thus, discoverable) included in the file.  

“For a contract to incorporate all or part of another document by reference, the reference must show an intention to incorporate the document and make it part of the contract. If so incorporated, those additional provisions become as much a part of the contract as if they were expressly written in it.” Wilson v. Wilson, 577 NE 2d 1323 – Ill: Appellate Court, 1st Dist., 3rd Div. 1991 (citations omitted)

Preserving your privacy in an Illinois is not easy but, with the help of a good divorce lawyer, it can be done. Contact my Chicago, Illinois divorce firm today to schedule a free consultation.

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Russell Knight

Russell D. Knight has been practicing family law as a Chicago divorce lawyer since 2006. Russell D. Knight amicably resolves tough cases while remaining a strong advocate for his client’s interests.

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