Online Legal Separation In Illinois

Every year, countless couples in Illinois find themselves in a situation where they need to reconsider the course of their relationships. It can be a difficult and daunting prospect, filled with questions and uncertainties. A legal separation is one of the most common, yet often misunderstood, legal paths couples might consider. This process can serve as a valuable step, giving couples space to breathe and think things over without making a permanent decision like divorce.

According to the American Psychological Association, about 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce, with rates even higher for subsequent marriages. Yet, not all of these couples take the immediate leap to divorce. Some choose a middle ground known as legal separation, a less understood route, despite being no less significant.

Understanding legal separation is crucial as it offers couples a chance to live apart while still retaining their marriage status. The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (750 ILCS 5/402) provides for legal separation, allowing spouses to live independently without officially ending their marriage. This often helps couples determine if divorce is the right course for them or if reconciliation is possible.

The importance of understanding legal separation cannot be overstated. In the words of renowned family attorney Sarah Nolan, “Legal separation can be a beneficial and strategic step for many couples, providing them with a much-needed pause button and a chance to take a step back before making any life-altering decisions.”

In this article, we will demystify the topic of legal separation in Illinois. We will break down the definition, the process, the legal and financial implications, and the emotional aspect and provide valuable resources for those considering this path. Through this article, we aim to provide an accessible guide to legal separation for laypersons, making a complex topic easier to understand and navigate. Whether you’re a struggling couple, a friend or family member seeking help, or someone curious about the subject, this article aims to serve as your comprehensive guide to understanding legal separation in Illinois.

Definition of Legal Separation


A. Legal separation is a middle ground between being married and getting divorced. It’s a legal status where a married couple may live apart while remaining legally married. They may divide their financial lives and make arrangements for child custody and support, all under the supervision of the court. However, unlike divorce, a legal separation doesn’t terminate the parties’ marital status.

B. In Illinois, legal separation is defined and governed by the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (750 ILCS 5/402). Here, a legal separation is considered a court-approved arrangement where a married couple lives separately, and the court provides provisions for child custody, spousal support, and the division of marital property. However, it’s essential to note that despite living separately, the couple remains legally married and can’t marry someone else.

Renowned Illinois family law attorney, Mark T. Wakenight, offers some insight: “In Illinois, a legal separation is more than just living apart; it’s a judicially recognized status that comes with rights and responsibilities. It’s essentially the court saying you’re no longer living as a married couple, but you’re still married in the eyes of the law.”


 Distinction Between Divorce, legal separation & Legal separation in Illinois. 

It’s vital to distinguish between legal separation, divorce, and legal separation. 


  • Legal Separation:

    • In a legal separation, the couple remains legally married but lives apart.
    • The couple can still benefit from certain marital rights, such as health insurance or tax benefits.
    • A court order can lay out the rights and responsibilities of each spouse, including issues related to child custody, child support, spousal support, and property division.
    • Legal separations can be reversed if the couple decides to reconcile.


  • Divorce:

    • A divorce legally ends a marriage, allowing each person to remarry.
    • All marital benefits end upon divorce.
    • The court decides on property division, child custody, and spousal support unless the couple can agree independently.
    • Once a divorce is granted, it is final, and the couple cannot revert to marriage.


  • legal separation:

    • An legal separation treats the marriage as though it never happened.
    • This option is generally only available under specific circumstances, such as fraud, incapacity, or if the marriage was illegal, to begin with (for example, in cases of bigamy).
    • Like a divorce, once an legal separation is granted, it is final.
    • The parties may need to resolve issues similar to a divorce, such as property division and child custody. Still, they will not have the option for spousal support since the marriage is considered to have never existed.

Understanding the distinction between legal separation, divorce, and legal separation can help couples choose the path that best suits their circumstances, offering them the most beneficial outcome during a difficult and emotionally charged period.

Reasons for Legal Separation In Illinois


A. Typical reasons couples may choose legal separation

Various factors drive couples towards legal separation.

  • Uncertainty about Divorce: Some couples choose legal separation when unsure about divorce. It offers a cooling-off period, allowing couples time to think and potentially reconcile.
  • Financial Considerations: Legal separation allows couples to live apart while still enjoying certain benefits of marriage, like shared health insurance, tax benefits, or retirement benefits.
  • Religious Beliefs: In some religions, divorce is discouraged or even prohibited. For such couples, legal separation provides an alternative where they can live independently without contradicting their religious teachings.
  • Test Separation: Some couples opt for legal separation as a trial to see how they would manage to live separately or to get used to the idea of no longer being together.
  • Protecting Legal Rights: Legal separation can protect court orders for things like child custody, spousal support, or property division without the finality of a divorce.

Take the story of Lisa and Mark, a Chicago couple who decided on legal separation due to their religious beliefs. Despite their irreconcilable differences, their faith did not allow for divorce. They chose legal separation, which allowed them to live independently without contradicting their religious teachings.

B. Pros and cons of Illinois legal separation

Pros of Legal Separation

  • Offers time for reflection and possible reconciliation: Legal separation provides a cooling-off period for couples to reflect on their relationship and potentially reconcile.
  • Allows for shared benefits: Despite living separately, couples can still enjoy certain benefits like shared health insurance, retirement benefits, and some tax advantages.
  • Respects religious beliefs: For those whose religious beliefs discourage or prohibit divorce, legal separation provides a suitable alternative.
  • Maintains certain legal protections: Legal separation allows for court-enforced agreements on matters like child custody, property division, and spousal support, providing a degree of legal protection for both parties.

Cons of Legal Separation

  • Cannot remarry: Since the couple is still legally married, neither party can remarry until a divorce is finalized.
  • Potential for financial strain: Maintaining separate households can lead to additional financial burdens, especially if one party is financially dependent on the other.
  • Emotional stress: The state of uncertainty that often accompanies legal separation can lead to emotional stress and strain.

C. Importance of individual circumstances and considerations.

Recognizing the importance of individual circumstances when considering legal separation is critical. Every couple’s situation is unique, influenced by a mix of personal beliefs, financial conditions, emotional state, and the presence of children. Therefore, consulting with a legal professional or counselor who can provide guidance tailored to specific circumstances is often advisable.

For example, consider a couple with a high net worth or complex financial assets. A legal separation may give them the necessary time to assess and divide their assets accurately. A hasty divorce could lead to unfavorable economic outcomes.

The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (750 ILCS 5/402) makes it clear that legal separation is a viable choice for couples, giving them the flexibility to choose the path that best fits their circumstances. Understanding this flexibility is key to making an informed decision. As the saying goes, knowledge is power, and this couldn’t be more true in the context of legal separation.

Legal Separation Process in Illinois

Step 1:  Legal separation in Illinois involves several steps. It begins with one spouse filing a petition for legal separation with the court. The petition includes details about the couple’s situation, such as the reason for seeking separation, arrangements for child custody and support, and division of assets. Once filed, the other spouse is served with the petition and allowed to respond. The court then reviews the petition and any responses before making a ruling.

Step 2: To file for legal separation in Illinois, at least one spouse must have been a state resident for at least 90 days. This requirement is laid out in Section 401 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (750 ILCS 5/401).

Step 3: one spouse must file a Petition for Legal Separation with their county’s Circuit Court to initiate the process. The petition must include the reason for the separation, the current living situation, information about any children, and a proposal for child custody and support. The necessary forms can typically be found on the county court’s website or obtained directly from the courthouse. It’s essential to accurately and fill out these forms as they will guide the court’s decisions.

In the words of renowned family law attorney George S. Frederick, “Filing for legal separation is not simply a matter of filling out forms. Each word and phrase can carry legal implications, so it’s recommended to consult with a legal professional before proceeding.”

Step 4. After the petition has been filed and served, the court sets a date for a hearing. During this hearing, the court will review the facts of the case and hear from both spouses. Based on the evidence presented, the court will decide on matters like spousal support, child custody, and division of assets. If the other spouse disagrees with the proposed terms, they can challenge them in court.

Consider the story of Paul and Laura from Evanston, Illinois. They agreed on a legal separation but disagreed on child custody arrangements. They presented their cases in court, and the judge decided based on the children’s best interests. This highlights the court’s role in ensuring fair and equitable rulings in legal separation cases.

Remember, navigating the legal landscape of separation can be complicated, so it’s always advisable to consult with a legal professional to understand the process thoroughly. Each step is crucial in ensuring your rights and future are secured.

Required Papers for Illinois Legal Separation(Free Download)


A. Petition for Legal Separation / Civil Union —> Download Now

This form initiates the process. You will provide:

  • Information about your marriage
  • The grounds for separation
  • Any children
  • Your desired arrangements for child custody and property division

B. Entry of Appearance—> Download Now

This document serves as an official statement that you will represent yourself in the case, acting as your attorney. This document notifies the court and all other parties involved that all communications about the case should be directed to you. It typically includes your contact information for these communications.

C. Summons—> Download Now

This document is served to the other spouse, notifying them of the legal separation proceedings.

D. Proof of Service:—> Download Now

This confirms that the other spouse was properly notified about the proceedings. This could be a “Sheriff’s Entry of Service” if the summons was served by a sheriff, or a “Certificate of Mailing” if sent by certified mail.

E. Judgment of Legal Separation—> Download Now

This form outlines the court’s decision on the separation, including provisions for child custody, property division, and spousal support


Illinois Legal and Financial Implications


A. Legal separation in Illinois carries several potential legal implications:

  • Child Custody: During a legal separation, the court will establish custody arrangements, including who the child will live with (residential custody) and who will make important decisions about the child’s life (legal custody). The court’s primary concern is always the child’s best interest.
  • Property Division: The court can divide the couple’s marital property. It’s important to note that Illinois is an ‘equitable distribution state, not a ‘community property’ state. This means the property is divided fairly, which is not necessarily equal.
  • Spousal Support: The court may grant one spouse maintenance (also known as alimony) during a legal separation. This aims to limit any unfair economic impact caused by the separation, especially if one spouse is more financially dependent on the other.

As family law expert George S. Frederick points out, “Legal separation can feel like a divorce in many respects, especially regarding legal and financial responsibilities. However, it’s important to remember that legal separation doesn’t dissolve the marriage.”

B. The financial implications of legal separation can be significant:

  • Separate Finances: Couples can begin living independently financially during a legal separation. This can include different bank accounts, credit cards, and financial responsibilities.
  • Child Support and Alimony: If the court orders, one spouse may need to pay child support or alimony to the other. These payments can have a substantial impact on each spouse’s finances.
  • Tax Implications: Legally separated couples may still be considered married for tax purposes. However, the specifics can vary, and consulting with a tax professional to fully understand the potential implications is essential.

Consider the case of Mary and John, who pursued legal separation due to personal differences. They had to untangle their joint finances and set up separate bank accounts, credit cards, and budgets. John was ordered to pay spousal support to Mary, and they had to figure out the best way to file their taxes. While it was a complex process, it offered them financial independence and a chance to establish their financial futures.

Every couple’s circumstances will differ, so the legal and financial implications can vary widely. Therefore, consulting with legal and financial professionals can be invaluable in navigating this process.

Potential Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them


A. During the process of legal separation, people can make several common mistakes:

  • Rushing the Process: One common mistake is rushing without fully understanding the implications. Legal separation can impact your legal rights and financial health; hastily making decisions can lead to regrettable outcomes.
  • Neglecting Legal Advice: Some people need professional advice to navigate the legal separation process, which can lead to missed opportunities for negotiation and potentially unfavorable outcomes.
  • Underestimating Emotional Impact: The emotional toll of separation is often underestimated. It’s not unusual for people to overlook self-care and mental health during this time, leading to increased stress and emotional turmoil.

B. Here are ways to avoid these pitfalls:

  • Take Your Time: Rather than rushing decisions, take the time to understand each step of the process and its implications. It’s a big decision, and it’s essential to consider all aspects carefully.
  • Seek Legal Advice: Engage a professional to navigate the legal complexities of separation. They can provide advice tailored to your situation and protect your interests.
  • Prioritize Self-Care: Remember to take care of your physical and mental health. Seek support from friends, family, or professional counselors to manage the emotional impact of separation.

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  • What happens if my spouse doesn’t agree with the legal separation?

    In Illinois, if one spouse doesn’t agree with the legal separation, they have the right to contest it. After the petition for legal separation has been served, the respondent (the spouse who did not file) has the opportunity to respond to the petition and express their disagreement in their response.

    If the disagreement is regarding the separation, the court may still grant the legal separation as long as the spouse who filed can show they live separately from the other spouse.

    However, if the disagreement is about the terms of the separation—such as child custody, property division, or spousal support—the court will consider this. Both parties can present their case in court, and the judge will decide based on all the evidence.

  • How long does it take to get a legal separation in Illinois?

    The duration of the legal separation process in Illinois can vary greatly, but generally, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months or even longer. This timeline is influenced by factors such as the case’s complexity, whether it’s contested or uncontested, and the court’s schedule. Uncontested cases are typically faster when both parties agree on all terms. For a more accurate timeline, consult with a legal professional.

  • How much does it cost to file for legal separation in Illinois?

    The cost of filing for legal separation in Illinois can vary depending on the county, but you can expect the court filing fees to be around $300. Additional costs may include service fees, attorney fees, and costs related to child custody evaluations or mediation, if applicable.

  • How does legal separation affect my rights to my spouse’s retirement benefits in Illinois?

    In a legal separation, depending on the specifics of your agreement or court order, you may still be entitled to a portion of your spouse’s retirement benefits. This typically applies if the retirement benefits were accrued during the marriage, making them marital property.

    Specifically, suppose your spouse has a pension or retirement plan. In that case, you might be entitled to a share of the benefits accrued during the marriage, depending on Illinois law and the specifics of your separation agreement. This is often achieved through a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO), a legal document that grants a person a right to a portion of their spouse’s retirement benefits.

    However, Social Security benefits operate under federal regulations. According to those, you may be eligible for benefits based on your spouse’s record if you were married for at least ten years.

  • If we reconcile, how do we nullify the legal separation?

    If you and your spouse reconcile after obtaining a legal separation in Illinois, you have the option to nullify or vacate the legal separation. Here’s how you would typically go about it:

    1. File a Motion: You’ll need to file a motion with the court that granted the separation. This motion will request the court to dismiss or vacate the judgment of legal separation.
    2. Joint Request: It’s generally beneficial if both spouses jointly file this motion, demonstrating to the court that the reconciliation is mutual.
    3. Court Hearing: In some cases, a court hearing may be necessary. During this hearing, the judge will ask questions to ensure that both parties agree to end the legal separation and that reconciliation is in the best interest of both parties.
    4. Court Order: If the judge agrees, they will issue a court order to dismiss or vacate the judgment of legal separation.
    5. Legal Effect: Once the judge issues this order, the legal separation is officially ended, and the spouses are no longer bound by its terms.

    It’s recommended to consult with a legal professional throughout this process to ensure all steps are correctly followed. The legal professional can also help ensure that any agreements made during the legal separation that you wish to maintain (such as a child custody agreement) are properly transitioned into the new legal status.

  • Can the terms of a legal separation agreement in Illinois be changed after it’s been finalized?

    Yes, you can modify the terms of a legal separation agreement in Illinois after finalizing it. However, this usually requires a showing of a significant change in circumstances. Here’s a brief overview of how it typically works:

    1. Filing a Motion: To change the terms of a legal separation, one spouse must file a motion with the court that issued the separation decree. This motion should outline the changes they seek and the reasons behind the request.
    2. Showing of Changed Circumstances: Typically, a court will require a showing that a substantial change in circumstances justifies the modification. This could be a significant change in income, a move, or a change in the needs of a child.
    3. Best Interests of the Child: If the changes sought relate to child custody or support, the court will also consider whether the changes are in the child’s best interests.
    4. Court Approval: If the court agrees that a modification is justified, it will issue a new order reflecting the changes.
  • Can a legal separation agreement be used for an Illinois divorce settlement agreement?

    Yes, a legal separation agreement can often serve as the basis for a divorce settlement in Illinois. Many issues addressed in a legal separation agreement, such as property division, spousal support, and child custody, are also relevant in divorce.

    When the couple decides to divorce, they can present their legal separation agreement to the court as their proposed divorce settlement agreement. If the terms of the legal separation agreement are still fair and reasonable and in the best interest of any children involved, the court may accept the agreement as is or with minor modifications.

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    However, it’s important to remember that the court always has the final say in a divorce settlement. Even if the parties agree on all terms, the court will review the agreement to ensure it is equitable and in the children’s best interests. Sometimes, the court might require modifications before approving it as a divorce settlement.

    While a legal separation agreement can provide a helpful starting point, the parties’ circumstances may have changed since the legal separation, potentially requiring reevaluating the agreement’s terms.

  • Can I seek a legal separation if my spouse is not currently residing in Illinois?

    You can still seek a legal separation in Illinois even if your spouse does not reside there. However, specific residency requirements need to be met:

    1. Residency Requirement: According to Illinois law, at least one spouse must have lived in the state for at least 90 days before filing for legal separation.
    2. Filing and Serving: The petition for legal separation should be filed in the county where you or your spouse reside. Even if your spouse does not live in Illinois, they can still be served with legal separation papers outside the state.
    3. Jurisdictional Issues: If your spouse resides out of state, there could be complexities around jurisdiction, especially when enforcing the terms of the legal separation.
    4. Spousal Consent: If the spouse disagrees with the separation, they could challenge the jurisdiction of the Illinois courts to hear the case, particularly if they have had little to no connection to Illinois.


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