It’s rarely easy to decide to end a marriage. And because marriage is a complex legal relationship, not just a personal one, the choice to end a marriage is often more complicated than the parties may realize when they make the decision to separate. When the time comes to end a marriage, Illinois couples have several options, each with their own legal and interpersonal consequences. Understanding the legal impact of the differences between legal separation and divorce can help separating couples understand the effect each statuse can have on their options and obligations. What Is Involved In A Divorce In Illinois?

A divorce or judgment of dissolution is a final legal order that constitutes the end of a marriage. After a divorce, the parties are free to remarry, and the court makes final determinations regarding the parties’ support (referred to as “maintenance” in Illinois) obligations, division of marital property or debt, and child support and allocation of parental responsibility. 

Dissolution of a marriage is governed by the Illinois code at 750 ILCS 5/401 et seq. A divorce proceeding is initiated when one of the parties files a petition for dissolution with the court. In order to file for divorce, at least one of the spouses must have been an Illinois resident for at least 90 days prior to the petition filing, and the petition must contain a description of the “grounds” for dissolution. If the parties seek to have a court make orders regarding allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time matters, the children at issue must have been Illinois residents for at least six months preceding the court’s decision. 

Illinois is a no-fault divorce state, meaning that “irreconcilable differences” is a reasonable ground upon which to grant a divorce petition. A finding of irreconcilable differences is presumed if the parties have been living separately and apart for six months preceding the divorce. A divorce can be either uncontested, in which the parties agree to the terms for dissolution, or contested, in which a court must resolve a dispute between the parties concerning one or more issues, from parenting time to sorting out financial matters. 

What Is A Legal Separation?

A legal separation, like divorce, changes the legal status of the married parties. Also like divorce, the court can make an order defining the terms of the separation, including the payment of spousal maintenance, child support and allocation of parental resposnsibilities. The court can also order the distribution of some marital assets or debts.

Unlike divorce, however, separation does not constitute the end of the marriage. Either spouse can file a petition asking the court to resolve financial and parenting issues while the parties are living “separate and apart.” Importantly, the spouses do not need to be living apart to be declared legally separated — even spouses still living in the same home can file for separation if they are living independent lives under one roof.

What Are The Differences Between Separation And Divorce?

The major difference between separation and divorce is that a divorce is a final decree permanently ending the marriage. Both spouses are legally permitted to remarry, and although some issues, most frequently related to child custody and support, may need to be revisited after a divorce, a dissolution order is intended to sever the parties’ legal relationship.

In a separation, by contrast, the parties remain legally married. Neither spouse can remarry while separated, and separated spouses can remain on one another’s health insurance and in some cases can remain eligible for benefits such as social security or pension benefits. 

This additional flexibility can make legal separation an attractive alternative to divorce for some couples. If a couple does not wish to divorce for religious reasons, or if one party has a health issue that requires that they maintain the other’s health insurance, for example, the parties may choose to enter into an indefinite separation. In addition, many couples choose to enter into a separation to clarify their legal obligations while still attempting to work out marital disputes. Although a separation is not required prior to divorce in Illinois, a legal separation can help to clarify the parties’ arrangements in the event that they eventually do decide to dissolve the marriage.

The Importance of Working With an Experienced Family Law Attorney

Facing a divorce or separation can be intimidating, to say the least. Remember, you don’t have to go through this big transition alone. 

As your married life devolves into complicated legal jargon like “separation” or “dissolution,” it’s important to find someone who you can trust to be on your side and guide you through this complex process with confidence and peace of mind, at every step of the way. 

Whether your divorce is contested or uncontested, a skilled lawyer will help you navigate through this process and give you the guidance you need — should you turn to mediation, tactful negotiation, or even fighting it out in court.

From beginning to end, a knowledgeable family law attorney can… 

  • Help you understand all of your options 
  • Guide you through the ins and outs of the divorce process 
  • File and complete all necessary paperwork (including petitions, responses, judgments etc.) 
  • Carefully review your agreements/settlements 
  • Consider all potential issues and think ahead to post-decree matters, including determining college contributions or re-visiting child support or a parenting agreement

Facing a Separation Or Divorce? We’re Here for You

Have any more questions about the differences between a separation and divorce? Interested in discussing your unique situation with an experienced Chicago family law attorney? 

Navigating the end of a marriage can be confusing and exhausting, even under the best of circumstances. Here in Illinois, there are many details and conditions in family law that can be difficult to fully understand. At the Law Offices of J. Jeltes, Ltd., we make it our mission to ensure that our clients understand the divorce process at each and every step of the way.

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 — such as issues of property division, maintenance (formerly spousal support or alimony), child support, allocation of marital debt, and parenting time. 

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, we are here for you. Don’t hesitate to reach out to our team of experienced and compassionate advocates to continue the conversation.