Getting Divorced without “Going to Court” (Uncontested divorces in Iowa and Illinois)

When a person and their spouse believe they are in agreement about every aspect of their divorce case, they will often express a desire to get divorced without having to “go to court.”  This article addresses what is commonly meant by such a statement and how uncontested divorces in Iowa and Illinois work.

As a preliminary matter, it is important to note that many people who believe their divorce case is uncontested – which means that the parties are in full agreement as to all matters – are mistaken.  Such a misunderstanding as to whether one agreed with their spouse as to all matters in the divorce case generally comes about in one (or more) of 3 ways:

1. One or both spouses don’t fully understand all the issues in a divorce case.  For example, one spouse may not understand how child support works, or the other spouse may misunderstand how the court would handle retirement accounts.  Or, a spouse may be mistaken as to the effect that divorce has upon health insurance benefits.  When there is such a misunderstanding, it is impossible for there to be agreement on every aspect of the case.

2. One spouse changes his or her mind.  In divorce cases, it is common for a spouse to change their mind.  Sometimes a person changes their mind over a simple matter that is of little importance, such as who would be responsible for the final water bill in the marital residence.  Other times, the dispute is deeper, such as who will have primary physical care of the children, or who will remain in the marital home. Such changes of a person’s mind prior to the finalization of a settlement agreement can result in a seemingly uncontested case becoming very much a contested case.

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3. One spouse lies.  It is not uncommon in divorce cases for one spouse to actively lie to another in an attempt to gain an advantage.  For example, one spouse may tell the other spouse that they agree with everything and will cooperate to settle the case, in order to try and get the other spouse to lower their guard and not properly prepare their case.

Avoiding those pitfalls is important.  So many people end up having a more emotionally difficult and financially burdensome divorce case as a result of not properly handling their case.  Sometimes that is out of a desire to avoid being “mean” to their spouse, and other times it is a result of trying to save money.  The fact of the matter is that handling the case the right way is not mean, and tends to be easiest on everyone’s emotions and wallets.

Assuming that none of the foregoing applies and a divorce case is really uncontested, then it can be a simple process to resolve everything.  The exact procedure employed varies state by state.  How an uncontested divorce is resolved in Iowa and Illinois are addressed below:

Resolving an Uncontested divorce in Iowa

In Iowa, we prepare the documents needed to finalize the divorce case and obtain the necessary signatures from the client and from the opposing party.  These documents include a stipulation and settlement agreement, a divorce decree, and possibly child support guidelines, documents to address retirement account distributions, and more.  The documents are then filed with the Iowa District Court in the county where the case is pending.  Since Iowa switched to electronic filing (EDMS), the process is much faster as no court appearance is required in most cases.  Instead, from our office we can file the documents and submit them to the judge for approval.  At that point, the parties are divorced.  In many Iowa divorce cases where the parties are in full agreement, we can avoid the need to physically attend court at all.

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Resolving an Uncontested divorce in Illinois

In Illinois, an uncontested divorce is resolved through the filing of documents with the Circuit Court, and a brief hearing called a “prove-up.”  The documents generally include a divorce decree, a settlement agreement, and possibly child support guidelines, a joint parenting agreement, documents to address retirement account distributions, and more.  The prove-up is a simple but necessary court appearance where the attorney and the client appear before the judge to make a formal court record of various legal matters that is necessary in order to complete a divorce case.  That hearing consists of the attorney asking a serious of very simple questions to the client, which the client then answers in front of the judge, after which time the case can be completed.