Confused by Illinois Divorce Terminology that you hear from your Lawyer or in Court? Here's a Quick Tip Guide!

Divorce lawyers speak a whole different language, and if you are facing divorce in Illinois, you should become familiar with its terminology as well. Legal terms vary from state to state and this quick reference is specific to Illinios. It doesn't matter if your divorce is in Rolling Meadows, Chicago, DuPage County, Kane County, Skokie or Maywood- the terms will be the same from courthouse to courthouse and in most cases come from the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, the state law that deals with divorce and child custody. 

Dissolution of Marriage: A fancy word for Divorce. 

Petition for Dissolution of Marriage: This is the document that gets the ball rolling and begins the divorce process in Illinois. By law, this divorce petition must meet certain requirements to tell the court certain things about your situation.

Petitioner: This is what the person who legally initiates the divorce is called. Their name will always be on top of the caption, or case name.

Respondent: This is what the person who did not legally initiate the divorce is called. His or her name will be at the top. For example, it will always be Petitioner v. Respondent. The "v" stands for "versus". 

Counter-Petition for Dissolution of Marriage: The Respondent can file his or her own Petition for Dissolution of Marriage after his or her own spouse does. There can be tactical reasons for doing so which should be discussed with your divorce lawyer if you are the Respondent. The Counter-Petition is part of the same case, is heard by the same judge, and will have the same case number.

Filing Fee: This is the one time fee that must be paid to the court; also known as "Court Cost". As of 2013, the filing fee for divorce in Cook County is $307. The Cook County filing fee is the same in all courthouses ("districts") so you will pay $307 if you are filing for divorce in Rolling Meadows, Daley Center, Skokie, Maywood or any other suburban courthouse. In DuPage County, the filing fee for divorce is $290. The Kane County filing fee for divorce is $276. The filing fee for Dissolution of Marriage is always paid by the Petitioner in Illinois.

Appearance: This is the document filed by the Respondent, raising his or her hand to the court to say "I'm participating in this divorce process". It is filed by the lawyer for the Respondent to officially let it be known who is representing him or her. If someone is not going to represent themself in divorce, he or she will file an appearance form Pro Se.

Pro Se: Representing one's self in the divorce, as opposed to having a lawyer. 

Answer: This is what is filed in response to a Petition. After a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage is filed, the Respondent files a "Response to Petition for Dissolution of Marriage", what is also known as an Answer.

Status: In a divorce case, the judges want to be updated from time to time as to what is happening in the case. This helps move things along.  Your case will typically return before a judge for status approximately every 45 days, give or take. 

Contested Divorce: A divorce in which the parties do not agree on issues. This is more common than an uncontested divorce.

Uncontested Divorce: A divorce in which the parties agree on all terms.  

Sole Custody: Generally, one parent makes the major decisions for the minor children of the divorce

Joint Custody: Generally, both parents have decision making authority when it comes to the minor children. 

Residential Custody: This defines which parent the minor children will live with. The parent who the children live with is known as the custodial parent. The other parent is usually referred to as the non residential parent or the non custodial parent.

Visitation: Typically refers to the schedule for the non residential parent to spend time with the kids. Illinois has recently shifted towards favoring the term "parenting time" and applying the term to each parent. 

Maintenance: Used to be called alimony. It is money paid from one ex-spouse to the other ex-spouse after the divorce and has nothing to do with child support. It is not awarded in every divorce.

Chid Support: Money paid, usually from the non-residential parent to the parent who lives with the kids, to help support them.

Marital Settlement Agreement: Getting to this point is the goal in Illinois Divorce. It is the agreement between divorcing spouses which settles all issues between them and allows the divorce to be finalized. The Marital Settlement Agreement is then incorporated into a final judgment for dissolution, making it legally binding once the divorce is final.

Custody Agreement: See Joint Parenting Agreement.

Joint Parenting Agreement: If minor children are involved in the divorce and the parents will both be involved in their lives, a joint parenting agreement settles all issues with respect to the kids. It is also known as a "Custody Agreement".

Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage: The final court order ending the marriage and setting forth the terms. 

G.A.L.: Acronym for Guardian Ad Litem, a professional who may sometimes be appointed in contested custody cases to help the court investigate parenting and custody issues. 

Hopefully this helped you identify and understand some of the terms oftentimes used in Illinois divorce cases. If you are confronting a divorce, be sure to claim your free copy of my book which will will answer many more questions. Or, schedule an appointment. I look forward to meeting with you soon, whether you are only starting to think about divorce or are in the thick of it yourself and need the help of a lawyer.





Carol O'Connor Cadiz
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Attorney & Owner at O'Connor Cadiz Law: Bankruptcy, Injury, Real Estate & Mediation