Q: What are the grounds for divorce in Illinois? I heard they've changed. How long do you have to have lived here to get a divorce?
A: We're now a "pure" no-fault state. The only grounds for divorce in Illinois is irreconcilable differences. And the residency requirement is 90 days.
"Irreconcilable differences" became the only grounds for divorce in Illinois on Jan. 1, 2016. Until then, we also had 10 "fault" grounds for divorce. Antique grounds like adultery or habitual drunkenness weren't used very often, but mental cruelty was.
Irreconcilable differences was made grounds for divorce in 1984. Since then, the law has said that irreconcilable differences must "have caused the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage." The judge in the divorce case must determine "that efforts at reconciliation have failed," or that future efforts "would be impracticable and not in the best interests of the family."
It used to require proving a two-year separation, or a six-month separation with your spouse's consent to waive a two-year separation. Now, irreconcilable differences can be proven just by showing that you've lived "separate and apart for a continuous period of not less than six months." You no longer need anything signed by your spouse.
If you prove a six-month separation, then there's "an irrebuttable presumption that the requirement of irreconcilable differences has been met." That means grounds for divorce have been proven, once and for all. Your spouse can't do anything about it.
Proving irreconcilable differences without a six-month separation is possible, but more of a hassle. To avoid that hassle, and any risk, most people just go with a six-month separation.
Cases says separation does not require living apart. As one case put it, separation for divorce purposes "is a state which can be realized without physical distance between the parties." Another case said that "separate lives," not "separate roofs," are what matter.
Illinois' residency requirement is now 90 days. That's 90 days before a divorce judgment is granted — not necessarily 90 days before you file. That's the same with the six-month separation requirement for irreconcilable differences; it's measured up to the date of the divorce judgment, not when the divorce is filed.
You're supposed to file in the county where some spouse resides. But if nobody objects, a divorce can be filed in any county the parties choose.
California began the trend for no-fault divorce, in 1969. Until then, Nevada was the go-to state for divorces.
Nevada's "migratory divorce trade" resulted from what was for its time a short six-week residency requirement, and easy-to-prove fault grounds. Nevada also legalized gambling at the same time they liberalized their divorce laws, which helped make the "Reno cure" more popular with the in crowd.
Illinois passed its first divorce law in 1819 — just a year after we became a state. Abraham Lincoln apparently handled 145 divorce cases as a lawyer. Back then, you could get divorced by going to court and proving grounds based on fault, or by getting special legislation passed granting you a divorce.
John Roska is a lawyer with Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation. You can send your questions to The Law Q&A, 302 N. First St., Champaign, IL 61820. Questions may be edited for space.