Getting a divorce in Chicago

It’s legal to file your own divorce–but is it wise?

[Note: Also see “Divorce in Illinois.”]

April 24, 2011

By Mike Hinshaw

Dorothy Brown, clerk of the circuit court for Cook County, Illinois, has a useful FAQ page for anyone seeking basic information on divorce in Chicago or the rest of the county. Following are selected questions, answers and comments.

The basics: required documents

What documents are required to file for divorce?

Both contested and uncontested divorces require the following:

  • State Certificate of Dissolution & Invalidity of Marriage;
  • Domestic Relations Division Cover Sheet
  • Self-drafted Petition

Additionally, an uncontested divorce requires:

  • The Respondent’s Appearance;
  • A Certification and Agreement by Counsel, verifying that there are no contested issues.

A contested divorce requires a summons.

The clerk’s office can help with a certain amount of information if you are planning to file your own divorce, for example, what is a summons and how does one get filed? (See related question on self-filing below.) However, many experts, scholars and counselors agree that divorce can be so tricky and so emotional that most people are better off hiring a trained, experienced divorce attorney.

Contested versus uncontested

What does it mean to have an uncontested versus a contested divorce?

In an uncontested divorce, both sides agree on the divorce, division of marital property, and child custody and visitation issues, if any. A contested divorce is where the parties disagree about one or more of these areas, which must then be negotiated or litigated.

By the word litigated, the clerk’s office is referring to a trial. Remember, divorce proceedings are a civil matter, not criminal. Under civil law, a Petitioner (or Plaintiff) sues a Respondent (or Defendant). If the divorcing spouses can not reach a negotiated settlement, the matter goes to civil court for a trial, in which both sides can present evidence and testimony and can across cross-examine witnesses for the other side.

In such a case, you definitely want a trained, experienced attorney to help you present your best case.

Self-filing can work, but even in an uncontested case, an attorney can help by ensuring nothing’s overlooked

How do I file for my own divorce?

For contested or uncontested divorces, the Clerk’s Office can give you a prepared packet of forms. Fill out these forms and self-draft a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. Once the paperwork is filed, you will receive a case number and judge (Calendar) assignment. You may set up a court date at the Motion Counter. At a later date, if there has been no activity on the case, you will receive a white postcard in the mail notifying you of your first court date.

If you have few assets to divide–or are in complete agreement about their division–and have no children (or you’re also in complete agreement about child support, visitation, schools and so forth), this can be a viable option. Typically, however, one spouse takes the lead and goes ahead and hires an attorney, just to make really sure that everything is done correctly. Many attorneys offer beneficial rates for uncontested divorces, and often both spouses in such cases report “peace of mind” that an attorney was involved.

Just remember, though, divorcing spouses can’t both be legally represented by the same attorney.


And that’s where we come in–If you’re ready to begin the search for a compatible, well trained, experienced divorce attorney, you can start with our free case evaluation. If you need more information, please browse our site, using the tabs at the top of the page.