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Cost of Divorce in Illinois


Many people consider filing for a divorce.  One of the factors is the costs of a divorce.  In this article, we will discuss legal fees and the type of legal fees and costs one should expect to pay for an Illinois divorce.  In my experience, the time periods of the beginning of the year and towards the end of the year are times where spouses file for divorce.  Often, married couples with long-term marriages (15 to 25 years) begin the divorce process in their middle to late thirties to early 50s and beyond.


The average initial retainer in my experience ranges from $2,500 to $3,500 (on the low end) to $5,000 to $10,000 on the high end.  An initial retainer is a deposit towards future legal services where the lawyer and law firm can bill against the retainer for their services and costs.  The initial filing fees to file a divorce case range from $300 to $350 on average. A filing fee is a court fee payable to the Clerk of the Circuit Court in your local community.  The Sheriff’s Fees (or a private process server) charges between $100 to $125 depending on the location to serve the Defendant’s spouse. Thus, the beginning court costs without attorney’s fees is an estimated $500.  


In Illinois, a long-term marriage is a marriage with a length of the marriage of 15 years to 25 years.  Time together as boyfriend/girlfriend or significant other does not factor into the length of the marriage.  Marital misconduct such as infidelity is generally immaterial. Long-term marriages are more complex divorces because there are substantially more assets, liabilities, retirement assets, and children’s issues including post-college education.  


One of the major issues in a long-term marriage is spousal maintenance or otherwise known as “alimony” or “spousal support”.  A big misconception is the concept of spousal maintenance. The goal of spousal maintenance is to even out the income of the two spouses consistent with their lifestyle.  Spousal maintenance is factored into long-term marriages much more often than most spouses realize. Illinois courts will examine the fourteen relevant factors in marriage to determine whether spousal maintenance is appropriate.  Generally, the Courts will examine common sense factors such as the length of the marriage, the health of the parties, the income-producing ability of each spouse, the asset level of each spouse, and many other factors in determining whether spousal maintenance is appropriate.  

The duration of spousal maintenance is calculated based upon the number of years of marriage in Illinois.  A marriage of fewer than five years is calculated by multiplying the length of the marriage at the time the divorce filing occurred by .20;  5 years or more but less than 6 years is .28; 6 years or more but less than 7 years is .28; 7 years or more but less than 8 years is .32; 8 years or more but less than 9 years (.36); 9 years or more but less than 10 years (.40); 10 years or more but less than 11 years (.44); 11 years or more but less than 12 years (.48); 12 years or more but less than 13 years (.52); 13 years or more but less than 14 years (.56); 14 years or more but less than 15 years (.60); 15 years or more but less than 16 years (.64); 16 years or more but less than 17 years (.68); 17 years or more but less than 18 years (.72); 18 years or more but less than 19 years (.76); 19 years or more but less than 20 years (.80). For a marriage of 20 or more years, the court, in its discretion, shall order maintenance for a period equal to the length of the marriage or for an indefinite term.  Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (504(b)).


Many long-term marriages have minor and adult children where the ages vary.  In many long-term marriages, the children range from 7 years old to high school children with possible college-aged students.  The parents often married in their early twenties. Child support and parenting arrangements must be factored including the drafting of custody agreements.  A custody agreement is essentially a parenting plan detailing the rules of how parents will co-parent. Child support calculation is more difficult for self-employed individuals, construction workers, and other workers who have substantial overtime.  These factors add to the complexity of a divorce because the calculation of child support is adversarial, and each party has a lot to gain or lose.


Property division is a major issue in long-term marriages because the parties may have little to substantial retirement assets, real estate interests, and liability issues.  The marital settlement agreement will outline how the parties will divide these financial assets including debts; child support and related expenses.  


A college education is reserved in most divorce cases, which means that the issue will not get addressed unless one party wants to make payment of college educational expenses mandatory.  Generally, courts will require parents that can afford to contribute to post-educational expenses. I will not talk much about this issue because this literally can be a separate topic altogether.


In my experience, a long-term marriage will cost an average of $6,000 to $9,000 minimally per spouse in simpler middle to long-term marriages.  In more adversarial and higher complex divorce matters, each spouse will spend $9,000 to $25,000 throughout the length of the case.  

In many of these complex divorce cases, partial attorney’s fees and costs may be deducted out of the marital assets.  In many cases, each spouse will pay their own attorney’s fees and court costs out of their share of the marital assets and liabilities.  One spouse may also be expected to contribute to the other spouse’s initial retainer to even the playing field. In Illinois, a court will consider interim attorney’s fees.  In my experience, most divorce attorneys will not accept your case without an initial retainer unless your case involves a substantial amount of assets. The average attorney’s fees range from $250 to $400 per hour including charges for paralegals, secretaries, and assistants.  

Most divorce attorneys bill on an hourly basis and spouses should expect to replenish their retainers on a regular basis. Attorneys do bill for their time including phone calls, emails, and text messages.  Thus, clients should be smart about how and when they communicate with their attorneys. The costs of legal services are substantial. The choice of attorney and your spouse’s attorney could significantly impact the costs of attorney’s fees and costs.  In my experience, many divorce attorneys are adversarial despite it not being in their client’s best interests. These divorce attorneys will secure judgments against their clients for unpaid attorney’s fees and costs.


Uncontested and collaborative divorces should be considered when appropriate.  There are divorce mediators that can counsel couples and attempt to resolve differences without the conflict of litigation.  In my experience, these experiences only work in simpler divorce cases with minimal issues of dispute such as minimum assets; adult children; no children; and or waiver of spousal maintenance cases.


Unbundled services are generally services where an attorney is used for limited portions of a divorce.  These services work in divorce matters where the parties cannot afford an attorney. For example, a divorce attorney may calculate child support or spousal maintenance for the parties.


In conclusion, the costs of legal services are a major issue especially those considering filing divorce.  Long-term marriages often break down between years 15 and 25. One of the factors to consider is how to properly afford a divorce.  Divorce will have a substantial impact on one’s life for years. Picking the right attorney that will educate you and work in your best interests is critical.  There are times to litigate a divorce and times to settle when it is in your best interests. If you have further questions, you can contact Sean Robertson at 630-780-1034 or online.

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