Divorce is one of those topics on which everyone seems to have an opinion— although the fact of the matter is that many people here in Illinois actually believe some outdated or flat-out incorrect myths about divorce.
As you weigh your options for the future, being able to separate fact from fiction can help you move forward with confidence and peace of mind. Looking for some answers? Let’s break down six common myths that you may hear about divorce here in Illinois:
Myth #1: Ending a Marriage Means That You’ve “Failed”
Many people have deeply ingrained beliefs about marriage and divorce that can be hard to shake. For some, this includes the deep seated idea that having to seek out a divorce means that your marriage is a “failure.” Nothing could be further from the truth.
For one thing, it’s important to remember that you aren’t the first couple to get divorced, and you certainly won’t be the last. There is much less stigma associated with divorce now than there has been in decades past. Divorce is a fairly common occurrence in the U.S., which has had a fairly consistent divorce rate for some time now. Recently, divorce professionals from across the globe have also seen a surge in filings, largely believed to stem from the increased pressures of COVID-19 and global lockdown measures.
When weighing all of your options for the future, it’s important to keep your health and happiness in mind. Many people go on to live more fulfilling and enjoyable lives after a divorce, whether that means finding happiness with another partner or remaining single. While it’s natural to be nervous about the effects of separating on yourself and your kids, it’s also important to be realistic about the circumstances facing your family. Studies have shown that staying in a fractious or difficult relationship can often be just as, if not more, detrimental to children’s long-term health and well-being than witnessing a separation.
Myth #2: Marital Assets Will Be Distributed 50/50 Between Partners
Some people believe that a family’s assets will be divided “right down the middle” during a divorce, with each spouse taking exactly half. That is not how it actually works in Illinois, where the courts seek to provide for a distribution of all marital property that is fair and equitable, rather than equal.
This means that when considering how to divide emarital property, the court will weigh a number of different factors, including the value and types of marital property involved and the personal and economic circumstances of both spouses and any dependents.
It is also important to understand that Illinois statutes treat marital and non-marital property differently. All marital property is eligible to be divided during divorce; broadly, this refers to all assets and liabilities acquired during a marriage and might encompass real estate, vehicles, investment accounts, and more.
Non-marital property is that which belongs solely to one partner, and is generally purchased before the marriage and remains solely in one owner’s name. Non-marital property may also be acquired by gift, legacy, or descent or may be property that is excluded due to a valid written agreement, such as a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement. Often, the distinction between non-marital property and marital property can become blurry, due to issues like commingling and transmutation of assets.
For more information, please visit our guide: “What Is Considered Marital Property In Illinois?”
Myth #3: You Must Have a Specific Reason to Seek a Divorce
There is a common misconception in Illinois that you need grounds for a divorce to be tied to a specific and provable action, such as infidelity. In reality, the only grounds for divorce that the state recognizes are “irreconcilable differences.” Generally speaking, this means that you and your spouse don’t see eye-to-eye in a way that has caused lasting damage to your relationship. Past attempts to repair the relationship haven’t worked, and future efforts to resolve your disagreements could be seen as futile, or against the best interests of you, your spouse, or your family.
This means that Illinois is considered to be a pure “no-fault” divorce state, and has been since 2016. The term “no-fault” is used in these situations because it is not required for either spouse to prove that the other did something wrong in order to seek a dissolution of marriage.
A “no-fault” divorce takes the emphasis off of the why, and instead focuses on the fact that the marriage has not been working, and seems to be beyond repair. As a result, your reasons for seeking divorce, including marital faults, can remain personal. One spouse cannot simply deny or reject a request for a dissolution of marriage filed by the other.
For more information, read right here on our site: “Is Illinois A ‘No-Fault’ Divorce State?”
Myth #4: Divorce Will Always End Up In a Contentious Battle
Hollywood has a tendency to exaggerate what happens during divorce proceedings for dramatic effect. Despite what you might have seen on countless TV shows or films such as Marriage Story, not all divorces end up in battles fought out in a no-holds-barred courtroom trial.
Here in Illinois, divorces generally fall into one of two categories: contested or uncontested. An uncontested divorce is one in which both parties are able to agree when it comes to their children, their property, and all other decisions related to their dissolution of marriage.
A divorce becomes contested when there is a dispute over one or more relevant issues, which might include maintenance (formerly alimony), parenting time and responsibility, child support agreements, or allocation of property and debts.
Even in the most contested divorce proceedings, however, parties are often able to reach an agreeable solution through mediation and negotiation, which can result in a settlement without having to have the contested matters go to trial. Whether contested or uncontested, it’s important to remember that divorce is still a legal process, which means that both parties must meet certain legal requirements — including complying with all filing deadlines, exchanging discovery, and appearing before the court for a “prove-up” to finalize the process.
For more, please read our guide: “Contested Vs. Uncontested Divorce in Illinois”
Myth #5: Mothers Always Get “More” In a Divorce Than Fathers
There is a common belief that divorce laws are weighted in favor of mothers over fathers when it comes to important issues such as calculating maintenance (formerly alimony), calculating child support, and delegating parental rights and responsibilities. In reality, the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA) is essentially written to be gender neutral.
Just as many of our beliefs about divorce are shaped by Hollywood storytelling, some people have antiquated ideas about what divorce involves in the 2020s.
Consider for instance maintenance. Maintenance refers to money that one spouse must pay the other on an ongoing basis, following a divorce. Its purpose is to help an ex-spouse support themselves and live independently after the dissolution of their marriage. Either spouse, regardless of gender, can be awarded maintenance depending on their circumstances.
Assuming a case is appropriate for maintenance, the court will either apply statutory calculation guidelines, which are based solely on the parties’ income and the length of the marriage; or deviate from said guidelines, with a specified reason for the deviation. You can read more about the calculations and guidelines involved in our resource, “How Is Maintenance (Formerly Alimony) Calculated In Illinois?”
Similarly, child support in Illinois is calculated under an Income-Shares model, which means that the amount is based on both parents’ incomes.
Meanwhile, parents can work together through mediation or agreement to present a “parenting plan” — a signed, written agreement that allocates significant decision-making responsibilities, parenting time, or both. If the court needs to step in, it can issue an allocation judgment regarding parenting time and parental responsibilities.
An allocation judgment is intended to outline parental decision-making according to the child’s best interests. A determination of “best interests” will weigh a number of different factors, including the wishes of the child; the mental and physical health of all parties involved; the level of each parent’s participation in past significant decision-making; the existence of any previous parenting agreements; the willingness and ability of each parent to consider the needs of the child; the occurrence of abuse; and “any other factor that the court expressly finds to be relevant.”
For an up-to-date perspective on these important family law matters, please read our article, “Pandemic Highlights School-Related Issues and Parental Decision-Making in Divorce.”
Myth #6: I Can Make Through The Divorce Process Without an Attorney
While we’re all for the DIY spirit, the reality is that even the most straightforward divorce is still a complex and difficult process to navigate alone.
While you are not necessarily required to be represented by an attorney during a divorce, the advice and guidance of an experienced legal professional can help ensure that you are able to properly respond to every element of the process from beginning to end — from answering the initial petition, to conducting discovery, to thoroughly reviewing all paperwork and documents on your behalf.
At the same time, an experienced and knowledgeable lawyer can also help make sure that you are aware of every option available based your unique circumstances; that you know your rights and obligations at each step of the process; that you have someone prepared to advocate for your position should the need arise; and that you are in a position to understand the long-term impact and ramifications of your decisions and actions. Meanwhile, hiring an attorney for a divorce is often less expensive and more straightforward than many people anticipate.
Do You Have Any More Questions About Illinois Divorce or Family Law?
While this list of myths and misconceptions is hardly comprehensive, it helps demonstrate just how complex and nuanced divorce and family law can be.
At the Law Offices of J. Jeltes, Ltd.,our attorneys and staff are skilled in handling legal matters in some of life’s most challenging family transitions, including divorce and the many considerations that go along with it. With more than 20 years of combined experience, our legal professionals are driven, attentive, and dedicated to achieving the best results possible. We truly understand that every situation is unique, and before hiring our firm our attorneys will provide you with a comprehensive one-on-one consultation to discuss your legal concerns and goals.
If you have any more questions about any aspect of divorce in Illinois, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team of experienced and compassionate advocates to continue the conversation.