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What Happens at a Court Hearing for an Uncontested Divorce?

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Understanding what happens at a court hearing for an uncontested divorce can help spouses get prepared. The petitioner, who is the person filing the divorce paperwork, must appear during a court hearing for an uncontested divorce. Whether the other spouse attends is optional. The judge and the petitioner’s lawyer may ask a few questions of the petitioner, but the process is straightforward and fairly quick. Barring any obvious area of contention in the marital settlement paperwork, the judge should sign the divorce order.

What Is an Uncontested Divorce?

In an uncontested divorce, both spouses agree on all the major issues, including typical areas of conflict such as property and debt division, child custody, parenting time, and even pet custody. Some divorces are uncontested from beginning to end, while others start out contested and end up uncontested.

The smoothest divorces are typically the ones where no minor children, property, or assets are involved. Couples that share children or assets are more likely to have disagreements during the divorce process. 

In some divorces, the parties agree in major areas but disagree on one or two topics in minor ways. They must negotiate with each other, through their lawyers, or in mediation to resolve these differences. It is possible for an uncontested divorce to result from a divorce that initially involved contention.

Uncontested divorces do not require lawyers, but retaining one may be in a client’s best interest. Your chances of having to revisit a marital settlement agreement years later increase if you do not get an uncontested divorce lawyer the first time around. At a minimum, divorcing spouses should hire a lawyer to review the settlement agreement. This is particularly important if minor children or assets are involved.

An uncontested divorce does not mean a “free pass” from a judge. Judges are still required to review divorce agreements and sign them. Anything a judge finds unconscionable or problematic would need reworking, but this does not occur often.

To get an uncontested divorce in Illinois, you must meet residency requirements and agree with your spouse on the issues. At least one spouse must have lived in the state for a minimum of 90 days.

What Happens at a Court Hearing for an Uncontested Divorce?

The spouse who petitioned for divorce must appear at the court hearing for an uncontested divorce. It is up to the other spouse to decide whether he or she wants to appear. If the other spouse does not attend, he or she must have previously signed all the marital settlement agreement documents.

The petitioner, also known as the plaintiff or the person filing for divorce, testifies to the terms of the marital settlement and may answer a few questions from his or her lawyer. The judge may ask questions, such as:

  • Give your name, address, and telephone number for the record. It is possible to have an uncontested divorce, even if you are afraid for your safety in some way. For example, maybe the person you are scared of is not your soon-to-be ex-spouse, or the both of you agree on all issues regardless. In these cases, you can let the judge know you are giving a substitute address. A friend’s or relative’s address, or a post office box, suffices.
  • How long have you lived in Illinois? It should be at least 90 days for the divorce to proceed, unless the other party meets the minimum residency requirement.
  • Who is the defendant? The other spouse is the defendant, so give his or her name. The judge is likely to ask you to give your spouse’s address, and telephone number, too.
  • Are you in court today to get divorced?
  • Do any personal or real property rights need to be decided in court today?
  • Do you have any children? Expect follow-up questions about the children’s ages, current addresses, and custody agreements.

The judge might also ask about both spouses’ annual incomes and the yearly expenses for the children.

How Do I Prepare for a Court Hearing for an Uncontested Divorce?

You will receive a court-mailed notice with the date, time, and courtroom designated for the court hearing for an uncontested divorce. You must attend if you filed for divorce. If you did not file the petition, your attendance is optional as long as you sign the paperwork.

If you are the petitioner, you’ll need to gather documents, such as your original marriage certificate (or a certified copy) and your children’s birth certificates. Show up early. An Uncontested divorce lawyer can make preparing for your hearing less stressful by guiding you through the process.

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Uncontested Divorce?

The advantages of uncontested divorce include a lower cost. It is possible to get divorced and only pay court fees. Even if you have attorneys review the agreement paperwork, costs are minimal because lawyers are not involved in court battles, in constant negotiations, or in regular communications with other parties.

Another advantage of uncontested divorce is that it can facilitate quicker recovery times for both spouses. Divorce tends to be tough mentally and emotionally, (often financially, too) even when uncontested. However, contested divorces can result in huge fractures and rifts that are harder to come back from. The hits to a person’s self-esteem, confidence, and relationships can be tougher.

An uncontested divorce can be completed in two to three weeks. It can take a bit longer if one or both parties want to make paperwork changes or consider the agreement longer. In any case, contested divorces may last for months or years.

One disadvantage of uncontested divorce is that one spouse may be in an unfair position. Spouses find themselves in unfair positions for all sorts of reasons, including guilt, grief, surprise, and confusion. Without lawyers to review settlement agreements, the problem remains. Fortunately, it is possible to involve lawyers in uncontested divorces and still keep costs reasonable.

A second disadvantage is that uncontested divorce usually is not appropriate in situations involving domestic violence or power imbalances. The parties might try for an uncontested divorce because it sounds simpler, but it is not the right choice for all circumstances.

Uncontested divorce also may not be possible with complicated properties and finances, no matter how hard the parties try. There are so many issues to consider and address. It is easy to overlook factors or not fully understand how a specific part of the agreement made today is likely to be disadvantageous years down the road.

What Are Important Issues an Uncontested Divorce Addresses?

Uncontested divorces address property division, child custody, parenting time, and other applicable issues, just like contested divorces. The notable difference is that the parties agree on the issues or negotiate them until they reach an agreement. During a court hearing for an uncontested divorce, a lawyer or judge might confirm with the petitioner that both parties agree on these issues.

Child Custody, Visitation, and Parenting Time

In Illinois, the parties are allowed to agree to any type of child custody or visitation agreement they want. That holds even if, say, one parent gives almost 100% of custody and time to the other parent. In Illinois, parents can make decisions regarding both physical and legal custody agreements.

Sole legal custody occurs when one parent has the bulk of the decision-making power. With joint legal custody, both parents share the power. In an uncontested divorce, the parents can come to any reasonable arrangement and have a judge sign off on it.

Custody typically involves parenting agreements and visitation schedules. Parents should consider regular, weekly, holiday, and special occasion schedules. Transportation, schools attended, and extracurriculars are other areas to think about.

Child Support

Uncontested divorces give parents more flexibility to deviate from the statutory child support guidelines. For example, parents can increase or decrease the amount that would otherwise be recommended as long as it is reasonable.

Spousal Support

Also called spousal maintenance, spousal support can be any reasonable amount the parties agree to. This replaces the term “alimony,” as previously used by courts.

Assets, Debts, and Division of Property

The parties in an uncontested divorce get to decide on the fair divisions of assets, debts, and property. They can do what works for them in their Illinois marital settlement agreements.

In a contested divorce, a judge would decide on an equitable division of property and debts. This consideration involves both parties’ income earned during the marriage, potential income capacity, how long the marriage lasted, the parties’ ages, education level, and health, among other things.

The divorce laws in Illinois define marital property as property earned or acquired during the marriage. Property that spouses had before the marriage do not automatically count as marital, but might if both spouses used it and contributed to it during the marriage.

In an uncontested divorce, the parties have the leeway to do what they like with inheritances, property acquired before and during the marriage, joint bank accounts, and much more, as long as it is deemed reasonable.

How Do I Know if I Should Get an Uncontested Divorce? 

Uncontested divorces make sense in many situations. Even if you and the other party disagree on several major issues, it is possible to find your way to an uncontested path forward.

One key is that both of you be genuinely invested in keeping the divorce uncontested. Another is that there are no power imbalances, power dynamics, or domestic violence issues at play. If one party (or both parties) feels there is a history of manipulation, smooth-talking, coercion,  gaslighting, or similar behaviors, an uncontested divorce might not make sense. At a minimum, a lawyer should review the marital settlement agreement paperwork of parties who have these concerns.

Some parties feel comfortable proceeding because no unfair dynamics are in play. They may disagree at first, but are able to talk with each other to resolve their differences. Direct negotiation does not always make sense, though, or can be uncomfortable. Counselors and divorce meditators are great assets in these situations. Lawyers can be helpful, too.

Even if your situation presents with complex layers of property, child considerations, and other factors, an uncontested divorce is possible. Both parties must be thorough when disclosing their assets and debts and communicate transparently.

An uncontested divorce might not be appropriate if you have feelings akin to, “I messed up. It’s only fair if my spouse has most everything.” When people are guilt-ridden, emotional, ashamed, or rushing, they are more likely to make decisions not in their best interest or in their children’s best interests. If nothing else, divorcees should ask a lawyer to review the divorce paperwork to ensure it is as fair as possible.

Does a Court Hearing for an Uncontested Divorce Always Occur?

In Illinois, a judge must approve the divorce paperwork. This occurs in court, so in that sense, a court hearing occurs for uncontested divorces. However, the hearing does not involve drawn-out public airings of issues unless the divorce suddenly becomes contested.

Uncontested divorce hearings are usually straightforward matters that judges proceed through quickly. Petitioners may answer a few questions to ensure they understand the marital settlement agreements, but there should not be surprises.

Can I Change an Uncontested Divorce to Contested During the Court Hearing?

A court hearing for an uncontested divorce does not preclude one of the parties from realizing issues exist or changing his or her mind. However, the divorce is final once the judge signs the paperwork, so the person objecting needs to do so before then. Bringing up issues in an uncontested divorce changes it to contested. It delays finalization, but is worth it if unfair dynamics have been occurring.

Uncontested divorce lawyer Denise Erlich is passionate about helping divorcing couples in the greater Chicagoland area transition to their new life as seamlessly as possible. Ms. Erlich patiently guides her clients through every step of the divorce process and provides clients with candid advice about their case and legal options, so they can make informed decisions about their future.

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