John Roska: Agreed-upon divorce can be smoother

Q: One of your columns said it's possible to get divorced without the other spouse signing anything, or cooperating. But what if both spouses cooperate? If everything's agreed upon, how can they make it go smoother or faster?

A: Cooperation can definitely make a divorce go smoother and faster. Not necessarily cheaper, but easier.

The most streamlined divorce possible is a Joint Simplified Dissolution of Marriage. It's been around in Illinois since 1994, and is the only divorce both spouses can file together. That's what makes it joint.

Simplified means: no kids; no real estate; married less than 8 years; separated at least 6 months; less than $10,000 total in personal property (including cars); less than $35,000 total in combined annual income (husband + wife); and no spouse earns more than $20,000.

If you pass those hurdles, so that it's really simplified, there's one last requirement for jointness. Both spouses must go to court together. Filing together is not enough—both spouses must show up together in court, to show the judge it's really joint.

That last part trips up lots of joint filers. If both spouses don't appear together—one's in jail, or in Alaska—their Joint Petition will be denied.

If you don't qualify for a Joint Simplified Dissolution, you can't file for divorce jointly. One spouse will have to file as the Petitioner, and the other spouse will be the Respondent, just like in a "regular" divorce. But, some things can still be simplified.

Probably the main way is for the Respondent to waive the requirement that the sheriff formally serve them with a Summons, and with a copy of Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. Instead, the Respondent can file an "Entry of Appearance," waiving service, and stating that they've already gotten copies.

Usually, the Respondent will have to pay a separate fee to file that Entry of Appearance. That may be more than the sheriff would charge for serving papers, but speeds things up.

That's because a court date can be scheduled once the Respondent files an Appearance. You can skip the 30 days a Summons served by the sheriff gives the Respondent to respond.

If you haven't been separated 2 years, but will have been separated at least 6 months by the time of a court date, you can simplify grounds by agreeing to a "no fault" divorce. That just requires that both spouses sign a waiver of the 2 year separation requirement.

If the divorce terms are agreed upon, you'll only need one court date. (Contested cases are "bifurcated" into a hearing on grounds, and another hearing on everything else.) The agreed-upon terms could be presented as a marital settlement agreement, signed by both spouses, or simply as the terms of the Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage, presented for the judge to sign.

Having both spouses come to the one court date together may also simplify things, by making written notice to the Respondent unnecessary. The Petitioner, at least, will have to show up to testify briefly.

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