Grounds for Divorce in Illinois

Unlike many states that have switched to “no fault” divorces, the state of Illinois still requires that person wishing to be divorced prove “grounds” for the divorce.  There are many grounds that can be used to obtain a divorce in Illinois.

The legal concept of grounds in Illinois

Grounds in a divorce case are the reason to justify a divorce.  Many decades ago, divorces in Illinois (and just about every other state) were hard to obtain as the law imposed strict requirements that were difficult to meet in order to obtain a divorce.  Although Illinois law still requires that grounds be proven for divorce, this requirement is not an impediment in divorce case, as will be discussed below.

The OLD Illinois grounds for divorce

Illinois law provided a list of grounds for divorce in 750 ILCS 5/401, and those grounds can be summarized as follows:

  • Mental cruelty towards spouse
  • Physical cruelty towards spouse
  • Adultery
  • Impotency
  • Desertion or abandonment
  • Drunkenness for two years
  • Sexually transmitted disease
  • Attempt to kill spouse
  • Felony conviction
  • Bigamy
  • Drug Addiction for two years
  • Irreconcilable Differences (but note that a two year separation required to use this as grounds initially)

The NEW Illinois grounds for divorce

Effective January 1, 2016, Illinois revamped its grounds for divorce to eliminate grounds other than “irreconcilable differences.”  This is a major simplification of the Illinois divorce law, which can make the divorce process easier and smoother.

The ease of proving grounds in Illinois under the OLD grounds

In most divorce cases in Illinois, the “nicest” grounds of mental cruelty are used in the initial divorce pleadings, and then later in the case there is a hearing where the parties agree to those grounds, or in some cases are able to modify the grounds to be irreconcilable differences (and waive the waiting period required under those grounds).  In such cases, grounds are a simple matter

See also  Overview of the Divorce Process in Illinois

In some rare cases, one spouse will attempt to prevent the divorce by asserting that no grounds for divorce exist. The Illinois Circuit Courts interpret the grounds requirement in a way that makes it relatively easy for a spouse to prove grounds even in the rare cases where the other spouse attempts to argue that there are not grounds for divorce.  As an example, in one such rare case handled by our firm the court found that the “mental cruelty” grounds were met because one spouse did not help the other spouse with yard work on two occasions.  In another such case, the consumption of a couple alcoholic beverages against the wishes of the other spouse were found to be mental cruelty sufficient to obtain a divorce in Illinois.  Those outcomes are a reflection of the fact that the Illinois judges see divorce as a right that should not be impeded by the grounds requirement.

The ease of proving grounds in Illinois under the NEW grounds

Under the old Illinois grounds, the spouses had to be living separate and apart for at least 2 years or sign an agreed waiver reducing that two year waiting period to 6 months. This, many people were unable to use irreconcilable differences in their Illinois divorce. Under the new Illinois grounds, cases where the parties live separate and apart for 6 or more months prior to entry of the divorce decree, there is an unrebuttable presumption that irreconcilable differences apply.