Most of us have heard stories about other people’s divorces or seen the fictional version in movies and TV. But if you’ve never actually been through a divorce, you probably have a lot of basic questions. We’ve provided answers to many of the most common questions on our FAQ pages and in our blog posts, but if you don’t see an answer to your question, you can use our online contact form to reach out and learn more.
Once you decide that getting divorced is your best option or that you are seriously considering a divorce, you should consider contacting an attorney who has experience dealing with domestic relations issues. Not all lawyers are experienced in addressing issues such as spousal support, valuing and dividing complex marital assets, or dealing with dissipation issues. If you’re ending a long-term marriage or you and your spouse co-own a business, it is particularly important to seek advice from an experienced domestic relations attorney.
As a technical matter, a divorce proceeding begins when a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage is filed. On a practical level, the process of getting divorced can begin long before a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage is filed. Some couples are able to discuss the financial issues raised in a divorce without having to first go to court. Some couples will go to mediation to try to resolve their differences. Others will have discussions between themselves. In either situation, discussing your goals and situation with an experienced domestic relations attorney can play a vital role in understanding your rights, identifying reasonable expectations and boundaries, and describing the types of information you may need in order to make informed decisions.
An important limitation to negotiating a divorce settlement before filing a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage is that you cannot compel your spouse to provide financial information. The amount and type of financial information needed to make an informed decision will vary greatly from case to case. In some marriages, both parties are extremely well informed about each other’s finances, or the parties have limited assets that make detailed disclosures unnecessary. Making a correct assessment of the type of financial information you need from your spouse is critical to protecting your rights and possibly your financial security.
Illinois is considered a “no-fault” divorce state, meaning that one spouse does not have to prove any type of misconduct by the other spouse to get a divorce. Nor does marital fault alter the distribution of marital assets or support obligations. This does not mean that certain types of misconduct by a spouse are irrelevant to a divorce proceeding. If a spouse has a girlfriend or a boyfriend, dissipation of marital assets could become an important issue. For example, if your spouse bought presents for a girlfriend or boyfriend, or paid for expensive dinners, those payments could constitute dissipation that your spouse will have to pay back to the marital estate. A spouse with a drug addiction or gambling problem can also support a finding that he or she dissipated marital assets.
Below are some of the issues you should address and start thinking about before you even file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage: (a) can I meaningfully negotiate financial issues with my spouse prior to getting divorced, (b) can I get the information I need from my spouse on a voluntary basis, and (c) what are the financial issues I will need to investigate. Figuring this all out can seem overwhelming, but this is one of the important reasons to seek out advice from an experienced domestic relations attorney.
Once a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage is filed, both parties will be required to prepare and exchange a financial disclosure statement. In this document, each spouse will provide, for example, the following information: (a) their prior year’s income, (b) how much they have currently earned, (c) various deductions from their income, (d) their living expenses, (e) their debts, and (f) certain general information concerning assets. This information typically provides a good starting point for a financial analysis. The information contained in the disclosure statement is sometimes most of the financial information you will need. If the parties have significant assets, private business[es], or different sources of income, you will need to obtain more information than what is contained on the financial disclosure statement. Further, if you believe dissipation has occurred, the information on a financial disclosure statement will not resolve those issues. Finally, you may not believe the information contained in your spouse’s disclosure statement is accurate and complete.
If you need more financial information than what is contained in the disclosure statement, you will need to proceed with what is called discovery. This step is very much what it sounds like – working to uncover, or discover, the facts in the case. Through your lawyer, you can submit formal requests to your spouse, through his or her attorney, for documents that contain relevant financial information. Some common types of records obtained through discovery include:
• Bank records
• Investment account statements
• Tax documents
• Loan records and credit card statements,
• Real estate transaction records, and
• If your spouse has a private business or a professional practice, you may need the business’ financial records.
The discovery process is important for many reasons, but one critical aspect is that a court can order your spouse to produce documents he or she may not want to turn over to you. Your spouse’s failing or refusing to comply with such court orders can result in serious adverse consequences for your spouse in the divorce proceeding.
Most divorce proceedings end in a settlement. It is important, therefore, to have a solid negotiation strategy. Once you and your legal team have gathered the necessary information, you can determine what terms are in your best interest and develop an appropriate settlement strategy. How the case proceeds at this point will depend on the specifics of your divorce. For example, how reasonable is your spouse, do significant factual disagreements exist, and are your positions close enough that you can actually reach a compromise. While it can be tempting to give in to strong emotions about keeping a particular item or punishing your spouse financially, you should discuss with your attorney the benefits and costs associated with pursuing particular goals.
Divorce cases are resolved in one of three ways: