No two divorce cases are exactly the same. Whether it is a highly complicated or relatively straightforward matter, most cases center on two or three critical issues: Parental responsibilities allocation of minor children, Spousal and Child Support, and Business or Financial matters. At the Law Offices of Fred A. Joshua, P.C., our attorneys are highly experienced in these primary areas and use their knowledge and experience to ensure a swift and desirable outcome for your case.
Most people thinking about divorce begin with the optimism of getting through the process without having to go to court. Unfortunately, amicable resolution works only when both people are committed to that approach. When one or both parties take widely divergent positions on certain issues, litigation then comes into play.
The Firm’s divorce attorneys also recognize that investigation, research and analysis needed to maximize the likelihood of success at a trial are the same investigation, research and analysis necessary to maximize the likelihood of a desirable settlement.
The Law Offices of Fred A. Joshua P.C. has family lawyers in the Southwest suburb of Hickory Hills that help clients prioritize their goals, go over all the possible approaches available, and help clients assess which approach will both advance the case and motivate the other party to settle.
The Divorce Process
The “Divorce Process” can be one of the toughest life experiences anyone can endure. A typical divorce is comprised of approximately six phases, which include:
- Step One: The Petition
- Step Two: Service of Process
- Step Three: The Response
- Step Four: Financial Investigation, Negotiation and Settlement
- Step Five: Pretrial Conference
- Step Six: Trial
Step One: The Petition
The first step in the process of divorce is the filing of a Petition for Dissolution
of Marriage. The person who files the Petition is identified as the
Petitioner and the spouse is identified as the Respondent.
A Petition for Dissolution of Marriage sets forth several basic facts about you, your spouse and your children. The document itself is public record. Therefore, the Petition is usually very brief, often only two or three pages in length, and does not contain a great deal of very personal information.
The Petition must state the "grounds" for the divorce. In Illinois, divorce can only be granted based on "no fault" grounds of irreconcilable differences. The Illinois version of the "no fault" ground is titled "irreconcilable differences." In Illinois, irreconcilable differences is now the only grounds for divorce because it negates the need to air anyone's dirty laundry in open court. The person who files the Petition does not receive any type of preferential treatment from the Court. Which party files first is irrelevant.
Step Two: Service of Process
Once the Petition is filed with the Court, due process requires that the Respondent be "served" with the Petition and a Summons to Appear. Clients are often highly concerned about how their spouse will be “served”. Initially, we use the local sheriff’s office to effectuate service of process on a spouse. If unsuccessful, we then turn to one of our trusted private process servers who handle our service of process in an expeditious and professional manner.
Step Three: The Response
Once served, your spouse has 30 days to file an Appearance and a written Response to the Petition. Most commonly, the spouse retains counsel very shortly after being served with divorce papers. If he/she fails to file a formal Response, the Petitioner may request that the Court enter a "default judgment." In default cases, proof is presented to the Judge showing that the Respondent was aware of the Petition and he/she has failed to answer. The Judge will then grant the divorce.
Once a Response has been filed, the attorneys can discuss whether
temporary support needs to be ordered. Temporary support is the payment
of child support, maintenance and marital expenses during the pendency
of the divorce case. In many cases, the spouses live together while the divorce
is pending and continue handling finances in their usual manner. Thus, temporary
support orders are not needed. If the spouses are not living together and/or sharing
expenses, the court can order that specific amounts be paid for child support,
maintenance and marital bills. Temporary support orders can either be entered by
agreement of counsel or by order of court after a full hearing.
Step Four: Financial Investigation, Negotiations and Settlements
This portion of the case involves determination of the value of the marital estate or "discovery". Discovery procedures commonly used in divorce cases include depositions, subpoenas, interrogatories and review of financial documents by accounting experts. If the assets and debts of the marriage are readily ascertainable and agreed on by the parties, they may choose to waive formal discovery. However, if either party disagrees with their spouse's estimate of value or the amount of debt attributable to each party, formal discovery is necessary and will be undertaken.
When the value of the marital estate is determined, negotiations for settlement commence. Sometimes an agreement regarding division of the marital estate and issues related to child custody can be achieved quickly and easily between the parties. Once an agreement is reached, a Marital Settlement Agreement is drafted and presented to both parties for review and signature. When the Agreement is completed and signed by both parties, it is presented to the Court along with a proposed Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage. Brief testimony is taken in court before the Judge, who reviews the proposed settlement and judgment to ensure they are equitable, and a final divorce decree is entered. In such cases, the parties appear before a Judge only once.
Custody and visitation are also issues subject to negotiation. If the parties agree early on custody and visitation, a temporary order may be entered which will stay in effect until the case concludes and a Judgment is entered. If the parties cannot agree on issues related to custody and visitation, the Court may order the parties to mediation or evaluation.
During the negotiation phase of the case, the attorneys will be required to appear in court periodically and advise the judge on the progress of the case. These court appearances are known as "status hearings."
Step Five: Pretrial Conference
If the parties are unable to reach an agreement, then the parties may choose to submit the issues in controversy to the Judge during a pretrial conference. Pretrial conferences are conducted in the Judge's chambers. Both attorneys present their respective positions to the Judge and the Judge makes recommendations for settlement, indicating how he or she would rule on certain issues if presented at trial. The Judge's pretrial recommendations are not binding on the parties but they are important because they indicate how the Judge believes the case should be settled. A pretrial conference is often the best motivation for reaching a final settlement of your case quickly.
Step Six: Trial
In the event an agreement cannot be reached through negotiation or pretrial conference, the matter is set for trial. The court's trial calendar is often booked months in advance, and parties may wait as long as 7 to 9 months for a trial date. During the months preceding the trial, your attorney will be preparing your case. Trial preparation includes interviewing potential witnesses, reviewing expert's reports, taking additional depositions, reviewing the discovery produced by your spouse, preparing exhibits and entering into stipulations with opposing counsel. A thorough preparation for trial is absolutely required to presenting a good case.
Trials range in duration from one day to several weeks, depending on the nature and complexity of the issues involved in your case. There are no jury trials in divorce cases. The decisions are made solely by the Judge. A final divorce judgment will be entered at the conclusion of the trial.
Things You Should Do Now
Consult An Attorney: Talking with one of our experienced professionals can give you valuable insight on what steps to take towards divorce. Talking with an attorney may even be best if you are simply considering divorce or you are not sure if it is a path you should proceed with.
Prepare Documents: It is usually harder to obtain these documents during the discovery process later in the divorce, so it is very useful to keep copies of any of the following things: Bank statements, life insurance policies, tax returns, real estate deeds, HUD statements, mortgage statements, car titles, social security statements, any financial documents, etc.
Make Inventory: Keep a list of all your valuables, including but not limited to: jewelry, antiques, furniture, electronics, safes, safety deposit boxes, etc.
Know Your Family’s Expenses: Know how much your household spends on rent, groceries, utility bills, mortgage, etc. Doing so will allow you to give a more realistic appraisal of what you will need to maintain the home after divorce. Also, know your spouse’s income.
Have A Back-up Plan: Even if divorce is not imminent, knowing that you can make it on your own is always important. Try to come up with ways that you can provide for yourself financially if the need may arise, if you are not already doing so now.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is a legal divorce? A legal divorce is the dissolution of a marriage which leaves both parties free to remarry.
Q: What is needed in order to file a petition for divorce? The petition is the first step in the process of divorce, and no other documents need accompany it – the petition suffices by itself by stating what exactly the reason for divorce is.
Q: Can the provisions in a divorce decision ever be changed? Typically not, unless either party has committed fraud, or makes a misrepresentation.
Q: What is a legal separation? A legal separation is when a couple is still married, but voluntarily chooses to live apart. The Judge will have made a decision on this, including specifics such as parental responsibility allocations, child support, etc.
Q: Can I get a divorce without going to court? Yes. If you and your spouse agree on the terms of your divorce, then only one spouse needs to go to court, as a trial is unnecessary.
Q: Does my spouse have a claim on possessions that are solely in my name? Yes. It does not matter whose name property is under because legally, “all property acquired by either or both spouses during the marriage and before the execution of a separation agreement...” is identified as “marital property”, and therefore can be equally distributed.
Q: Can my spouse have me removed from the house? Only under extreme circumstances, such as the presence of domestic violence, or overwhelming drug abuse.
Q: What role does counseling play in the divorce process? Counseling can be helpful if you are trying to maintain a healthy relationship with your current spouse, or want to avoid a particularly nasty divorce–in short, making the process as painless as possible. You should be careful with regards to the fact that everything you say in counseling can be used against you in a court of law.
Q. How long will my case take? It is usually hard to tell. Most of the cases we handle are concluded within two to four months. If we have a difficult attorney or a litigious spouse on the other side, things will take much longer.
Q. How is property divided? You will receive all of your non-marital property. Your spouse will receive all of his or her non-marital property. All of the marital property and debt will be divided equitably and fairly. Illinois is an “equitable division” state. Property is divided according to fairness, not necessarily 50/50. There is no cut and dry formula.