In Illinois, the ending of a marriage (known as a “dissolution”) is addressed in the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution Act, 750 Illinois Compiled Statutes 5. All of the legal rights and relationships created by a marriage or civil union are extinguished the moment a Judge signs the dissolution judgment. A judgment of dissolution of marriage or civil union permanently settles all financial rights arising out of your marriage or civil union and is final. Under Illinois Law, you have the right to represent yourself in all legal cases, including dissolution.
The legal term for representing yourself is “pro se,” (pronounced “pro say”) which is Latin for “on your own behalf.” Representing yourself is not a good idea for everyone. It is important to understand that by representing yourself, you may be giving up important rights. It is very important for you to find out if your spouse has a pension, retirement account, insurance or other significant property before you decide whether to file your own dissolution. If you do not ask for such things in the dissolution, you will give them up forever.
Before you file for dissolution on your own, you need to talk to your spouse, if possible, and find out how he/she feels about the dissolution and about the issues mentioned above. This will give you an indication on how to proceed with the dissolution.
The law limits the authority of the court to grant dissolutions (known as a question of jurisdiction – can this court hear this dissolution?). The law also dictates when the court has jurisdiction over a dissolution proceeding.
Within Illinois, the circuit courts have jurisdiction to hear dissolution cases. Generally, the circuit court with jurisdiction for your case is the circuit court in the county where you live or the circuit court in the county where your spouse lives. When you file the relevant papers, you must have stated your grounds for that court to have jurisdiction. If not state correctly, your spouse could file a motion to dismiss your case.
The first step in the dissolution process is filing the Petition (Petition for Dissolution of Marriage). Once the respondent (your spouse) would be served, he or she has 30 days (if your spouse lives in Illinois), 60 days (if your spouse lives outside of Illinois, but in the United States), or 90 days (if your spouse lives outside the United States) to respond to your request for dissolution (known as a Petition). If your spouse fails to respond, the court can proceed with the dissolution so long as service of process has been completed correctly. Whether or not your spouse responds, you will have to appear before the court, in a hearing scheduled by the clerk.