How Long Does a Divorce Take in Illinois?

Today’s blog post is right up there with one of the most asked in all of divorce and custody land: how long are you gonna be stuck in the purgatory we call the “divorce process.”

If I could snap my fingers and get you from where you are right now to where you want to be - divorced - I would, but I can’t. So let’s talk about what really controls how long the process takes.

There are three basic types of divorce: The default divorce, the agreed divorce, and the contested divorce.

Default divorce is a divorce where your spouse is either MIA or just doesn’t participate. This type is going to take typically around six to eight weeks. There are some hoops to jump through and some mandatory waiting periods, but that’s it.

If you are reading this right now thinking, “my spouse will agree to whatever - I just need to know how to get it done and how long it will take.” Then you have what we can call an agreed divorce. That’s where everything is...agreed. If you have kids, for example, you’ll have to agree on issues like child support, parenting time, holiday visitation, and summer vacations. There’s more, but you get the idea.

In the case of an agreed divorce, the length of your case depends on how long it physically takes you to get the paperwork together, get it signed by your spouse, and schedule a final court date. This is the part of the blog post where I say that talking with a lawyer – for at least a phone call - is a wise move. I wouldn’t trust your own assessment of how complicated your divorce is.

Don’t be that person that thinks they just have the flu, puts off going to the doctor, and then it turns out to be much worse. The same type of thing happens in court – All. Of. The. Time.

​So let’s talk practical options for getting your divorce done.

You can go to your local courthouse and see if they have forms to “Do It Yourself,” look for forms online, or hire a lawyer.

If you’re gonna hire a lawyer, you need to know a couple things. 

First: Not every lawyer will get your case done at the same speed. Some lawyers don’t have enough support staff, or maybe they just don’t appreciate your urgency, or maybe they are prioritizing more contested matters. If you hire the wrong lawyer, you could find yourself waiting and waiting while your lawyer does who knows what. 

Second: you don’t have to hire a lawyer for the entire case. You might consider hiring a lawyer just for document review. By doing so, it’s possible that you save time and money - while also getting the protection that a lawyer provides. The trick is to find a lawyer who provides this service. Many lawyers are very traditional in their approach to providing legal services and they’re apprehensive to give one off document review services.

So then how long does an Agreed Divorce take?

If it’s just a matter of getting the paperwork together, filing your case, and getting a final court date - two to three weeks. That’s if you and your spouse are on the ball about getting together necessary documents, paying mandatory fees, and signing on the dotted line.

​Now let’s talk about more contested matters.

These are the case where there is a big sticking point between you and your spouse. Maybe you two still live together with your children, and you both want to stay in the house and be the “primary residential parent.” Or maybe your spouse has a business that was started during the marriage and you are entitled to a part of it. Or maybe your children are about to enter college and you want your spouse to contribute to college expenses. Or maybe...I could keep going. The contested divorce scenarios are endless.

So how long does a divorce with one of these complicating factors take?

It absolutely depends on whether you and your spouse can find common ground. Now, if you have a spouse that’s being extremely difficult, you’re going to have to make the decision about if the agony of the divorce process is worth whatever you might get from going through the process. That’s exactly the type of decision a seasoned divorce lawyer can help you with.

If you’re currently going through a contested divorce, you might be thinking, what in the world is actually holding things up? There could be a lot of different reasons.

One of the most common is discovery. That’s the formal exchange of documents from one side to the other. 

The other is your attorney’s case load. If your attorney handles a lot of contested matters, they may have to prioritize the work of other clients over your case.

The pace of court is also just slow. Court dates are generally scheduled 30-45 days apart.

Or maybe it’s something more technical like removing your name from the mortgage and deed of the house and your lawyer knows that rushing things along is going to cause more of a headache in the long run.

The fact is: There are a lot of very good reasons that divorce cases don’t end. If you’re confused, ask your lawyer to explain, so you can set your expectations in the right place.

Now, I know you want a number so I’ll say this: A contested divorce typically lasts anywhere from 6 months, on the very short end, to 2.5 years, or even more.

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About the Author

Robert Buchanan is the founder and manager of The Law Office of Robert B. Buchanan.