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It is an unfortunate reality that a large percentage of marriages end in divorce. Divorce proceedings can be extremely emotional and stressful for all the parties involved. The process of obtaining a divorce or dissolution of marriage, as the courts refer to it as, can be made less traumatic when parties understand the procedure. In this article, I will discuss the first step of dissolution proceedings, which is filing a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.
A Petition for Dissolution of Marriage is the initial filing in a dissolution proceeding. It is a document in which a Petitioner is praying for a Judgment of Dissolution from the court. It requests the court to make decisions involving the care, custody and control of the parties’ minor children, the equitable division of the real and personal property, the equitable division of the debts and obligations of the parties and any additional matters the parties need resolved.
The Petition needs to outline several important key points. It is crucial to incorporate all information regarding the parties, the marriage, any children, assets, and debts in order to educate the court as much as possible. The more information the court has the easier it will be to reach an equitable decision.
The first point the Petition should address is the court where the Petition will be filed is the proper venue. According to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, proceedings should be held in the county where the plaintiff or defendant resides. Any objection to venue will be waived if it is not made within the time defendant’s response to the dissolution or legal separation petition is due.
Next, the Petition will outline basic background information of the parties. Many clients wonder why courts need to know their age, address and occupation. The reason is that it helps the court “get to know” the parties. For example, the parties’ addresses can help with jurisdiction matters and also determine where the respondent will be served. The Petition also must outline the specifics of the marriage. Parties will state the date of the marriage, as well as where the marriage was registered.
It is required to state in a petition for dissolution in Illinois that both parties are domiciled in the state of Illinois and that they have been for in excess of ninety (90) days. Domicile means to live in a locality with intent to make it a fixed and permanent home. Parties can have multiple residences but only one domicile.
The next element in a Petition for Dissolution, is to state the grounds for which a party is seeking the dissolution. Prior to 2016, there were eleven grounds for divorce in Illinois. Now the only grounds for divorce is irreconcilable differences.
In the event the parties have children, they should be listed in the Petition for Dissolution, along with their individual dates of birth. It is also important to specifically state in the Petition that the wife, regardless of whether she is petitioner or respondent, is not pregnant at the time of the filing. Further, all children should be listed regardless of whether they were born of the parties or adopted by them. All of this information will be relevant when issues of child custody and visitation come about. The Petition should make a specific request regarding custody of minor children and visitation rights of the non-custodial parent.
The Petition also addresses the matter of marital property and the equitable division of that property. Generally, parties will have a marital residence, joint bank accounts, retirement accounts, pensions, automobiles, furniture and other personal property that will need to be divided upon the dissolution of the marriage. The Petition will not get into specific assets, rather it will generally state there are assets between the parties that will need to be equitably divided. The division of the marital property is usually incorporated into a Marital Settlement Agreement which will be incorporated into the Judgment for Dissolution and filed with the court.
Finally, the Petition should mention marital debts and the allocation of payment of such debts. Marital debt is approached in a similar manner as marital property in the Petition for Dissolution. The Petition should state there is marital debt to be addressed between the parties and a Marital Settlement Agreement should be drafted to divided up these debts.
The Petition is only the first step in a divorce proceeding. The Petition informs the court of the circumstance of the marriage and pending issues between the parties. A well drafted petition will help to reach an equitable resolution that is in the best interest of the individual parties and their families.