A divorce in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois can take as little as two weeks and as long as three years. It all depends. Let’s work through what can make a divorce take so much time.
If you come to your lawyer with a full agreement between both parties, your lawyer can prepare all the final documents: a judgment of dissolution of marriage, an allocation of parental responsibilities, a marital settlement agreement and a certification and agreement of counsel.
Preparing these documents when there is a full agreement usually takes at least two weeks. The nature of family law is that there are a lot of emergencies which pre-empt previously scheduled projects. Therefore, I always tell my clients that it will take me and my staff two weeks to prepare the final documents.
Once the final documents are prepared we will review them with you. You’ll sign the approved final divorce documents and then we’ll forward them to your spouse. You may hand them directly to your final spouse, we may mail them or we may send them to your spouse’s presumed attorney. You know your spouse and his or her reactions so we leave the issue of presentment to you. If your spouse has an attorney, however, we always send the final documents to the attorney for review.
Upon receiving signed final documents from your spouse, we will file the documents and request a court date to finalize your divorce. A court date is usually granted two weeks from the date of filing. The court date will depend on when the judge you’ve been assigned to is available for prove-ups. This final court date is called a “prove up”. A prove up involves reading the final documents (usually summarizing) and confirming with the petitioner (the party who filed) that everything in the documents are correct. The other party may be present but is not required to be present. I always recommend that the other party be present as the judge may have additional questions or modifications to the final document.
If the parties have children and cannot come to an agreement on their own, the parties must go to mediation. “Parties and their representatives are required to attend mediation sessions, but are not compelled to reach an agreement.” Cook County Court Rule 13.4(e)(i)(a)
“For the following categories of contested issues, mediation is mandatory unless an impediment to mediation exists: (1) initial determinations of allocation of parental responsibilities; (2) modification of allocation of parental responsibilities; (3) relocation of the child; 4) non-parent visitation and third party allocation of parental responsibilities.” Cook County Court Rule 13.4(e)(ii)(b)
Mediation can take a few weeks if you hire a private mediator who is immediately available. If both parties live within Cook County the parties may use the Cook County Mediator which is free of charge but can take upwards of 3 months to get a first appointment.
If the mediation does not result in a full agreement, the children will typically be assigned an attorney of their own who will conduct an investigation and report to the court what is in the best interests of the children.
If the disagreements between the parties are financial, then the parties must engage in discovery. Discovery is the exchange of documents. It starts with exchanging the Financial Affidavit. Along with requesting a financial affidavit, either party has the power to request any other relevant documents and submit a series of 25 questions called “interrogatories.” The other party then has 30 days to answer these requests until you can send them a warning letter called a “201(k)” letter. Seven days after the 201(k) letter, you can file a motion to compel the other party to produce those documents.
As you can see, this is a time-intensive process…and this is only for the first request for documents. The returned documents may reveal bank accounts and other items you had no idea about and need to be investigated further. This starts the whole process of requesting, sending warning letters and filing motions to compel all over again.
Presumably, the documents uncovered by discovery will be presumed by both parties to be valid and true. If this is the case, when discovery is completed by both parties, a pre-trial may be requested at the next court date.
A pre-trial is a meeting with the judge, usually in the judge’s chambers, summarizing the facts of the case and the judge responds by saying, “If everything you both allege is true, I would probably rule x, y, and z”.
This pre-trial results in merely a recommendation (unless you stipulate in advance to the recommendation being binding). You are not obligated to accept the recommendation and you may request a trial where all the evidence will be heard as though it were not agreed upon. Most judges schedule trials 3 to 6 months after the pre-trial.
As you can see, there is a recurring theme here: the longer you disagree, the longer the divorce case takes. This is partly why 95% of divorces result in a settlement.
That being said, our office has handled hundreds of divorces quickly and affordably to the point where we have a highly automated system to take you through the above steps in the fastest most transparent manner possible. To learn more about the strategy we’d recommend for you, please contact our Chicago, Illinois office to schedule a free consultation.