A Cheap and Simple Way to be Divorced:
If you and your spouse have limited assets, limited income, no children, and you agree about the divorce, there is an inexpensive do-it-yourself divorce available in Illinois. However, make sure you meet the qualifications before spending your time or starting the divorce process. And the law regarding a “joint petition for a simplified divorce” changes as of January 1, 2016. This Q&A will provide the law as is applies 1/1/16:
Is there an inexpensive and simple way to be divorced?
Yes. A do-it-yourself divorce kit is available for the short-term, no children, limited asset-income marriage. The Illinois Divorce Act has a “Joint Simplified Dissolution (of marriage) Procedure.” This is a do-it-yourself procedure with forms which are available at the office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court at the county courthouse.
Who is eligible for the do-it-yourself divorce?
Parties to whom all of the following conditions apply:
- No maintenance (alimony) is being sought.
- Grounds for divorce are irreconcilable differences.
- No children.
- The marriage is under eight years.
- Neither party owns real estate or retirement benefits unless those retirement benefits are held only in IRAs and the combined value is less than $10,000.
- The value of the property acquired during the marriage (other than by inheritance or gift) is less than $50,000 and the combined gross annual income of both parties is less than $60,000, and neither party has a gross income in excess of $30,000.
Do I need a lawyer if my case does not fit into the “Joint Simplified Dissolution Procedure”?
Yes. If there are children, and if the assets or debts are more than minimal, while you are legally able to obtain a divorce without a lawyer, the consequences could be disastrous. The parallel is that I am legally entitled to do brain surgery on myself.
To save money, can a husband and wife have the same divorce lawyer?
No. A lawyer cannot represent both parties to a divorce even though you frequently hear that it is done. But, while the parties believe that a lawyer is representing both of them, a close look will show that the lawyer actually only represented one of the parties. It is Biblical and it is true: A “servant can only serve one master.
If my spouse has a lawyer, do I have to have a lawyer too?
No. Sometimes the parties have agreed to the basic terms of the divorce between themselves, but the agreement needs fine tuning and the divorce needs a lawyer to process it through the courts. In those cases the party who hired the lawyer will have the lawyer draft a marital settlement (divorce) agreement and present it to the other spouse. The agreement should be written in plain English (no legalese) so it is readily understood. If the other spouse likes the agreement, the agreement can be signed without the need of both parties being represented by counsel.
How can I employ a lawyer/law firm and keep the costs down?
The way to keep fees down in a divorce proceeding is for you and your spouse to agree to the basic terms of a divorce. A lawyer, in an initial consultation, should be able to inform you of what the essential issues are to which you and your spouse must agree. Equipped with that advice, if you and your spouse can agree to terms, the divorce can be simple and inexpensive.
As in all areas of delivery of professional services, the most expensive element is the services of the professional. For example, delivery of health care services by a physician is more expensive than the delivery of health care services by a technician, or nurse. The parallel for legal services is if some of the services in a divorce can be delivered by a paralegal or legal assistant employee of the lawyer.
Where the assets of the parties are not difficult to evaluate, and the incomes are straightforward, that is, hourly or salaried, much of the work can be done by the lawyer’s paralegal or legal assistant. The Gitlin Law Firm has found that utilization of a paralegal in a simple asset, simple income case, leads to a savings of about 50% in the delivery of professional services.