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Understanding the new Illinois divorce laws

On January 1, 2016, sweeping changes went into effect regarding the way in which Illinois couples obtain a divorce. As reported in the Chicago Tribune, this was the first time in 40 years that Illinois divorce law had been significantly updated.

The biggest change is that Illinois has now become a no-fault state. The Illinois Bar Journal explains that now there is only one ground for divorce:  irreconcilable differences that have caused the marriage to irretrievably break down. No longer does the spouse seeking the divorce have to prove fault on the part of the other spouse such as cruelty, adultery or bigamy.

Custody changes

The familiar words “custody” and “visitation” have been replaced by “parental responsibilities” and “parenting time.” For divorcing couples with children, each spouse now is required to file a parenting plan with the court within 120 days after service. The parenting plans must cover 14 statutory criteria including parenting time, mediation, decision-making responsibilities and each parent’s right to access the child’s school and medical records, etc.

Alimony changes

The word “alimony” has been replaced by “maintenance” and the guidelines for maintenance awards have been updated. An automatic right to maintenance no longer exists. Instead, the court must decide when a maintenance award is appropriate. It may consider each spouse’s income including disability, retirement, and any public funds, but not Social Security benefits.

Additional changes

Other changes include new statutes abolishing Illinois laws regarding breach of promise, criminal conversion and alienation of affection as they used to apply to divorce. However, a person may still bring a cause of action against his or her spouse for any such acts that occurred prior to January 1, 2016.

The prior divorce waiting periods, six months for spouses who agreed and two years for spouses who did not, also have been abolished. The court now is required to grant the dissolution of marriage within 60 days after receiving all proof in the case unless there is good cause for a 30-day extension.

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