When you go to divorce court in Illinois to finalize your divorce at the “prove up” hearing, you’ll find yourself in a big wood paneled courtroom where everyone is wearing suits and a robed judge sits above everyone behind a big podium. In addition to all these characters, there will usually be a person with a little typewriter recording what the people in front of the judge are saying. Not only is divorce court intimidating in every way…but someone is writing down everything you say.
An Illinois divorce prove up hearing may be intimidating environment but it’s actually a very simple process.
So, what can you expect and how can you prepare for your Illinois divorce’s prove up hearing?
A prove up hearing is easily the most common hearing in an Illinois divorce proceeding. A prove up is the final hearing where the divorce is finally entered.
The first thing that needs to happen is that you need to schedule your prove up with the court and file, in Cook County, a stipulation to hear an uncontested cause.
“An uncontested cause may be heard when an Uncontested Cause Stipulation is signed by the parties and their attorneys. The parties shall schedule the uncontested hearing with the Clerk of the Circuit Court or, at the preliminary or individual judge’s discretion, directly with the judge or the judge’s coordinator.” Cook County Court Rule 13.5(a)(ii)(B).
You will be assigned a time and court room (or Zoom meeting room number) for your prove up hearing. A notice of the prove up hearing must be sent to your spouse or, if they are represented by legal counsel, your spouse’s attorney.
Prove ups are for divorces which are finally negotiated and agreed. Divorces that aren’t finalized by agreement are finalized during a trial.
You’ll need all of your prove up documents in order in case the judge does not have a copy. A checklist is provided here.
That checklist is pretty detailed. At a minimum, “[t]he parties shall submit to the court at the time of prove-up the following:A proposed Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage or Civil Union;
A signed settlement agreement, if any;
A Parenting Plan when relevant; and
An Order for Support when relevant.” Cook County Court Rule 13.5(a)(ii)(C)
Whether you’re in court or doing the prove up remotely via video teleconference, please dress appropriately. For most people, this means dressing as though you were going to church.
During a prove up you will be called before the judge and“[t]he court, after examination of the petition and the parties and finding the agreement of the parties not unconscionable, shall enter a judgment granting the dissolution.” 750 ILCS 5/453
If you are representing yourself in your own divorce, the divorce judge is likely to ask you a series of questions that confirm what your Petition For Dissolution of Marriage and your Judgment For Dissolution Of Marriage both say. Example: “Where were you married? Do you have any children? Are you now pregnant?”
Basically, at your prove up hearing, every line on your Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage will be turned into a question for you, the Petitioner, to answer in front of the divorce judge.
There are usually additional documents that need to be addressed along with the Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage.
These documents are the Marital Settlement Agreement which handles all financial matters in the divorce; division of assets, alimony, child support and the Allocation of Parenting Time and Parental Responsibilities which handles the children’s schedule and the parent’s decision making.
The judge presiding over the prove up hearing is not likely to read the entirety of the Marital Settlement Agreement and/or Allocation of Parenting Time and Parenting Responsibilities.
An Illinois divorce judge really can’t reject your agreement unless the judge finds, independently, that the agreement is unconscionable.
“The terms of the agreement, except those providing for the support and parental responsibility allocation of children, are binding upon the court unless it finds, after considering the economic circumstances of the parties and any other relevant evidence produced by the parties, on their own motion or on request of the court, that the agreement is unconscionable.” 750 ILCS 5/502(b)
What is unconscionable? Something that is so plainly unfair that a judge couldn’t bring themselves to approve it. For example: one spouse getting nothing and getting no support.
I have had judges reject agreements that I have prepared as unconscionable but I just show up again the next week and say “Your honor, they are still agreed.” The divorce judge always begrudgingly accepts the agreement.
I personally, don’t prepare or enter unconscionable agreements. There is usually more details to the story of why the parties entered into a lopsided divorce agreement…and the parties never want to explain those details to the judge (cheating, drugs, etc).
Either spouse cannot even come into the prove up hearing at the last minute and say “Stop. I don’t want to agree to this.”
The court can only look only to the “terms of the agreement.”
“The terms of the agreement incorporated into the judgment are binding if there is any conflict between the terms of the agreement and any testimony made at an uncontested prove-up hearing on the grounds or the substance of the agreement.” 750 ILCS 5/502(b)
That being said, I’ve had opposing parties (and my own client once) show up drunk, high and belligerent to the prove up hearing. The judge just told us to come back another day and we finalized the divorce then.
If this is a divorce with children, the divorce judge will also double check to see if both parents filed their certification of attendance of the mandatory, court ordered parenting class.
At the prove up hearing there will usually be a transcriptionist/court reporter in the court room, the transcriptionists write down the testimony of parties.
Why does a prove up need a transcript? It really doesn’t but a transcript prevents either party from saying in the future that they entered into the agreement under duress. One less thing to worry about, I suppose.
In fact, the Illinois statute even says transcripts are not required in an Illinois divorce.
“No transcript of proceedings shall be required.” 750 ILCS 5/453
Locally, in Cook County, a transcript is required in default divorce prove ups.
“In all default cases, all testimony shall be recorded, transcribed, and filed with the Clerk of the Court.” Cook County Court Rule 13.7(a)
Additionally, you have to get permission from your divorce judge in Cook County to not get a transcript.
“In cases where each party is either represented by counsel or has filed a pro se appearance, the necessity of having a court reporter present and/or the requirement that a transcript be prepared and filed with the court may be waived by counsel or the parties with approval of the Court.” Cook County Court Rule 13.7(b)
If a transcript is required, then the petitioner in the case must pay that court reporter for the transcript (usually about $ 50), collect the transcript at 69 W. Washington, Chicago, Illinois on the 10th floor and file the transcript with the Cook County Circuit Court Clerk (back across the street at 50 W. Washington, Chicago, Illinois.
“[A] transcript of the proceedings must be filed with the circuit clerk within twenty-eight (28) days.” Cook County Court Rule 13.7(b)
At the end of your prove up, the court will hand you copies of your final divorce documents and you will notice that those documents are stamped but they are not signed. There will only be one signed copy of your Judgment For Dissolution of Marriage and it will stay with the court file.
Because many different institutions require more than a stamp to prove that your divorce decree was, in fact, entered and finalized with the court, you may want to get your Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage certified on the 8th floor of the Daley Center.
A certified judgment of dissolution of marriage has an additional embossed stamp that somehow makes your divorce decree more official. The federal government, for example, requires a certified copy of your divorce decree for immigration purposes. Cook County also requires a certified copy of your divorce decree in order for you to get a new marriage certificate.
These procedures are all changing day-to-day as we transition to practicing law and conducting court calls remotely via Zoom.
If you’d like to learn more about how to finalize a divorce in Chicago, contact my Chicago, Illinois family law office.