It would be hard to describe the Cook County Domestic Relations Division judge assignment system as “user friendly.” That being said, there is a method to the madness that assigns divorce judges to litigants in Cook County, Illinois.
One day your case may be heard by one judge and then the next day it is heard by another judge. Beyond the Illinois Marriage And Dissolution of Marriage Act, the Illinois Civil Procedure Code and the Illinois Supreme Court Rules, divorce litigants must know the local rules which impact their case.
Cook County’s Court Rules govern the assignment and transfer of divorce cases within Cook County.
Each Cook County domestic relations judge is labelled with a calendar number or letter.
“The Presiding Judge of the Domestic Relations Division shall assign each judge of the Division to a team and to a calendar within each team.
(i) Each Preliminary Judge shall be assigned to a lettered calendar.
(ii) Each Trial Judge shall be assigned to a numbered calendar.” Cook County General Order No. 15.3, 3.1
Each Cook County domestic relations case is initially assigned to either a calendar.
“Each case filed in the Domestic Relations Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County shall be assigned by the Clerk of the Circuit Court to a calendar by random electronic process as hereinafter provided” Cook County General Order No. 15.3
“When the complaint or other paper commencing an action in the Domestic Relations Division is presented for filing, the Clerk of the Court shall proceed in the below specified sequence:
Enter the names of the parties and the case number into the electronic data processing equipment and by random electronic process, draw the letter of the calendar to which the case is assigned from the appropriate preliminary calendar data bank” Cook County General Order No. 15.3,3.2(iv)
At this point, this is the Cook County judge that your case is assigned to.
If you do NOT like the calendar/judge your divorce case is assigned to, you can request one time to have your case assigned to a different judge.
“Each party shall be entitled to one substitution of judge without cause as a matter of right.” 735 ILCS 5/2-1001(a)(2)(i)
If the judge has made any kind of “substantial decision” the opportunity to substitute that judge will have passed.
“An application for substitution of judge as of right shall be made by motion and shall be granted if it is presented before trial or hearing begins and before the judge to whom it is presented has ruled on any substantial issue in the case, or if it is presented by consent of the parties.” 735 ILCS 5/2-1001(a)(2)(ii)
Whether a substitution of judge as of right has been granted or your judge is absent that day, the case may be transferred to another judge. Transfers are especially common if you are assigned to a team judge. Team judges have a letter assigned to their calendar. The volume of the team judge’s call is so large that they cannot be expected to do trials. Team judges have trial judges who they assign cases to that eventually do go to trial.
Any transfer must get approval from the judge presiding over the domestic relations division first.
“The Presiding Judge of the Domestic Relations Division shall designate another judge of the Division to hear matters in the absence of the regularly assigned judge.” Cook County General Order NO. 15.3,3.4
“When an action is transferred to the Presiding Judge of the Domestic Relations Division pursuant to General Order 1-3 of the Circuit Court of Cook County, the Presiding Judge, or his designate, shall order the Clerk to draw from the appropriate category bank a letter of a calendar to which the transferred case shall be electronically assigned.” Cook County General Order No. 15.3,3.6
“For the convenience of parties and witnesses and for the more efficient disposition of litigation, a judge, upon motion of any party may transfer any action pending before that judge to the Presiding Judge of the division or district for the purpose of transferring the action to any other department, division or district.” Cook County General Order No. 1.3
Whichever judge you are in front of has the power to decide on all matters in your divorce.
“[A] trial judge sitting in the domestic relations division of the circuit court of Cook County has jurisdiction to hear all justiciable issues.” In re Marriage of Isaacs, 632 NE 2d 228 – Ill: Appellate Court, 1st Dist., 3rd Div. 1994
Bouncing around between judges may not be ideal but a transfer is not injustice either.
“The allocation of judicial responsibilities to various divisions of a circuit court does not impose barriers to jurisdiction but rather reflects a concern for administrative convenience.” In re Marriage of Devick, 315 Ill. App. 3d 908, 913 (Ill. App. Ct. 2000)
You are free to remind the court that keeping a divorce before one judge is the practical and sensible option.
Allowing a single “court to address all related disputes in a comprehensive manner is especially important in dissolution proceedings, which typically involve a number of interrelated issues.” In re Marriage of Gary, 894 NE 2d 809 – Ill: Appellate Court, 2nd Dist. 2008
The new judge should follow the old judge’s orders…unless the new judge finds that the old orders are unfair. The usual standard of “substantial change in circumstances” is not always required.
“The power of a circuit court judge to review the interlocutory orders of his fellow judges is not without limits, but authority to amend a previous order does not always require a showing of changed circumstances as plaintiff contends. A trial judge is not bound by the order of another judge; he has a right to review the order if he believes it is erroneous, and he is obligated to do so if changed circumstances make the prior order unjust.” People Gas Light Coke Co. v. Austin, 147 Ill. App. 3d 26, 31-32 (Ill. App. Ct. 1986)
They say that if you don’t know the law or the facts of your case, you should at least know your judge. Developing a reputation with the 44+ Cook County Domestic Relations judges is no small feat. However, with all the judicial transfers that occur in Cook County, it is necessary to have a reputation that is both good and broad.