Divorce Terms 2017-10-13T19:50:37+00:00

Below is an alphabetical list of legal terms commonly used in divorce in Illinois

Alimony: In Illinois, alimony is known as maintenance. It is the support paid from one spouse to another.


Allocation of parental responsibility: This is the term used by Illinois courts when determining child custody.


Annulment: A marriage that was invalid from the start for some reason, such as bigamy or incest. Illinois has specific statutory reasons for allowing an annulment (lack of consent, underage parties, bigamy, incest, etc.). In Illinois, an annulment is called a declaration of invalidity of marriage.


Answer: What the respondent-spouse must file in response to the petitioner-spouse’s complaint. If you do not file an answer, the case may result in a default judgment.

Burden of Proof: A party’s duty to prove the truth of his or her claims in the lawsuit.

Child Support: The amount of money that a court will order one or both parents to pay every month to help support their child.


Contested Divorce: This is when the parties to a divorce cannot agree on issues revolving around the divorce, such as child custody, child support, division of assets, distribution of debt, and maintenance.


Counterclaim: In response to a petitioner-spouse’s divorce complaint, the respondent-spouse may file a counterclaim if he or she wants to list different reasons for the divorce.

Default: If the defendant-spouse fails to respond to the plaintiff’s complaint after being properly served, the plaintiff will usually be granted all the relief sought in the complaint.


Deposition: Through a lawyer, one spouse can ask the other spouse questions, under oath, in front of a court reporter. Before conducting a deposition, you need permission from the court. To get permission, you must file a motion to take a deposition.


Discovery: The stage of a lawsuit where the parties exchange information. This is crucial in a divorce case when a spouse is unaware of the extent of marital assets and estate. Discovery is also useful to obtain documents and other evidence that is needed for settlement or trial.


Divorce: The legal process for ending a marriage.

Equitable Division/Distribution: This is the term used for how the court assigns property in Illinois. Equitable does not necessarily mean equal or 50/50. Rather, it means what is fair considering certain weighing factors. See 750 ILCS 5/503(d)  for a list of factors that the court considers when dividing property and assets in Illinois.

Fault grounds: In Illinois, there are no fault grounds.

Grounds for divorce: Legal reasons a court will allow you to get a divorce. Illinois only allows no-fault grounds (i.e. irreconcilable differences).

Interrogatories: During discovery, one party may submit interrogatories to the other party. These are written questions that are helpful in obtaining information.


Irreconcilable Differences: The irretrievable breakdown of a marriage (i.e. no-fault grounds for divorce in Illinois).

Jurisdiction: This is a legal concept that gives courts the power to hear a case. It is the geographic area over which legal authority extends.

Legal separation: This differs from divorce because after a legal separation, you are still married. In a legal separation, a judge may decide on child issues and maintenance issues, but not property division.


Litigation: The court process for a contested divorce. It only takes one spouse to engage in litigation through filing a complaint for divorce, that in turn, forces the other spouse on the defensive side.

Marital Property: Property and assets accumulated during a marriage that may qualify for equitable distribution during a divorce. See 750 ILCS 5/503(a) for the law on what is considered marital property in Illinois.


Mediation: This is an alternative method to litigation for dissolving your marriage. This method works for couples that desire an amicable divorce and can cooperate with each other. Couples meet with a neutral, third party (i.e. the “mediator”) to discuss and work out the terms of their divorce. Unlike arbitration, mediation is a voluntary process which requires cooperation and compromise by each party, so a binding resolution can be made. Mediation is also unlike arbitration because the parties create their own agreement based on their own negotiations.


Motion: A request in writing to the court. The purpose of filing a motion is to obtain a court order from the judge that will provide a temporary solution to a problem. For example, a motion for temporary child support.

No Fault Grounds: In Illinois, irreconcilable differences is the only no-fault ground. Irreconcilable differences may be shown in many ways. One way to prove irreconcilable differences is by living separately for 6 continuous months prior to filing for divorce.


Non-Marital Property: Anything that is acquired before the marriage is non-marital property. Also, property that was acquired during the marriage and is also a gift, inherited or specifically excluded by a pre-marital agreement, is also non-marital property.

Parenting Time: In Illinois, this is the new term for “visitation.”


Petitioner: The spouse who files for divorce is called the “Petitioner.”


Petition for Dissolution: The initial step in a divorce is to fill out and file one of these forms in Illinois. It is a legal document that you or your attorney must file with the proper court that has jurisdiction over the case. This document is also sometimes called “Divorce Complaint” or “Petition for Divorce.”


Prove Up Hearing: A prove-up hearing is required before an uncontested divorce is granted by a judge.

Respondent: The spouse that has to respond to the petition for divorce is known as the “Respondent.”


Request for Admission: During discovery, one party may submit to the other party a written set of statements that the other party must either admit or deny.


Request for Production of Documents: This is an official request for documents that assists in the fact-finding process of discovery.

Service: Service is how the respondent-spouse receives a copy of the petition for dissolution and summons (i.e. how the respondent-spouse is “served” with complaint and summons).


Significant Decision Making Responsibility: The new term in Illinois for “child custody.”


Summons: A paper form that is delivered or “served” on the respondent-spouse. The information on the summons is the relevant divorce case information.

Temporary Orders: Temporary orders may be filed with a complaint when one party needs a temporary resolution of issues while the divorce case is pending. For example, you may file a motion for temporary child support, motion for temporary maintenance, etc. These are not necessarily final orders, and may or may not continue after the divorce is final.

Uncontested Divorce: This is when the parties to the divorce agree on all of the issues surrounding the divorce (children, maintenance, property division, etc.). An uncontested divorce can also include a divorce where the respondent never answers the petitioner’s petition for dissolution.