Types of Family Law Cases

Before you can file a case in court to start the process, you need to determine what you need to file, or what is your “cause of action”.  The Family Law Division handles many types of cases involving families including dissolution of marriage, legal separation, declaration of invalidity of marriage, dissolution of civil union, and parentage and child support for unmarried persons. Throughout The Guide for Family Law Cases (PDF), when a reference is made to “dissolution,” it means both a dissolution of marriage and a dissolution of a civil union, unless it specifically excludes one or the other.

Dissolution of Marriage (“Divorce”)

If you are married and no longer wish to be, you must start the process by filing a written Petition asking the Court for a Dissolution of Marriage. See Section III below for specific guidelines to pursue the dissolution of a marriage.

Legal Separation

Any person living separate and apart from his or her spouse during the marriage may petition the Court for reasonable support and maintenance while they live apart. You can seek a legal separation by filing a Petition in the county where:

  • Your spouse resides; OR
  • You and your spouse last resided as husband and wife; OR
  • If your spouse cannot be found in Illinois, the county in which you reside.

NOTE: A legal separation does NOT terminate a marriage. Even if a Judgment for Legal Separation is granted, the parties remain legally married unless and until a Judgment for Dissolution is entered. However, the court may award support to the other party if appropriate and pursuant to a Petition and proper Notice.  

Declaration of Invalidity of Marriage (“Annulment”)

A spouse can ask the Court to declare their marriage to be invalid rather than granting dissolution if the appropriate grounds exist. This process is commonly known as an annulment – the legal effect is that the marriage is treated as never having existed. See Section V below for specific guidelines to pursue the invalidity of a marriage.  

The following are grounds for the Court to declare the marriage invalid:

  • A spouse lacked the capacity to consent to the marriage at the time of the ceremony due to mental incapacity due to alcohol, drugs, or other incapacitating substances; or a spouse was induced to enter into the marriage by force, duress, or fraud involving the essentials of the marriage.
  • A spouse lacks the physical capacity to consummate the marriage by sexual intercourse AND at the time of the marriage the other spouse did not know of this physical incapacity.
  • A spouse was aged 16 or 17 at the time of the marriage and did not have consent of his parents, guardian, or judicial approval.
  • The marriage is prohibited by law. See 750 ILCS 5/212.

For each ground, there are specific time limits for filing a Petition for Declaration for Invalidity. See 750 ILCS 5/302 for more details. To begin proceedings, you must draft a Petition for Declaration of Invalidity of Marriage setting forth the appropriate grounds (detailed above). 

Dissolution of Civil Union

A civil union is dissolved using the same procedures as dissolution of marriage. All provisions of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act apply to the dissolution of civil unions. You must draft a Petition to Dissolve a Civil Union alleging similar facts as in a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and follow similar procedures as set forth above.

Parentage or Family Case

If you are not married, but you have children together, and you are asking the court to enter orders: establishing parentage; establishing or enforcing child support; establishing parenting time (formerly known as visitation); or establishing decision making for the minor child or children including education, medical, extracurricular, or religion.