Domestic Relations FAQ

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Frequently Asked Questions

    Out-of-court written or oral communications to the judges of the Circuit Court of Cook County regarding pending matters are known as ex parte communications. The Illinois Supreme Court and the Illinois Code of Judicial Conduct do not permit judges to engage in ex parte communications with litigants involving the substance of a pending case. Consequently, you may only speak directly to the judge upon filing a written motion or petition with the court, scheduling a court date, and providing due notice to the other party.

    No, the judge hearing your case, as well as the court clerk and other court personnel, are not permitted to provide legal advice to litigants or attorneys. 

    If you would like to find out when your next court date is, you may do so by contacting the Clerk's Office via:

    If you, or an attorney acting on your behalf, do not appear in court on your court date, there can be serious legal ramifications. If you know ahead of time that you cannot come to your next court date, you can file a motion, provide due notice to the other party, and come to court at an earlier date to ask that your court date be continued. Note that a phone call or letter to your judge will not suffice to reschedule your date or to excuse your absence.

    If your judge is absent on the day your case is to be heard, your case may be heard by another Domestic Relations judge designated by the Presiding Judge of the Domestic Relations Division or by the Preliminary Judge.

    Usually, emergency motions should first be brought before the judge to whom the case is regularly assigned. If that judge is not able to hear the matter in a timely fashion, your case may be transferred to the Domestic Relations judge designated as the emergency judge that day.

    “Giving notice” to the other party means that you must notify the other party* of any court dates you create and that you must give the other party a copy of anything you provide to the judge.** You must give notice because both parties are entitled to be notified about any proceedings in court. Proof that you complied with this requirement by giving notice to the other party and providing copies of paperwork is added to the record via a separate document titled notice of service, or notice of motion, or notice of filing. You can find forms for notices on the Clerk’s website. Many litigants also choose to bring any verification of service they have (i.e. a signed receipt of certified mail, a print out that your email sent, etc.).

    You can learn more about the notice requirements at For further information regarding acceptable forms of service and the appropriate notice window for the document you are filing, please see Cook County Rule 2.1(c)(i) and all relevant Illinois Supreme Court Rules including but not limited to Rules 11 and 12.

    *Please note that, if the other party is not represented by an attorney, you must serve the other party with your notice of motion and a copy of your motion. If the other party is represented by an attorney, you must serve the attorney - not the other party. If the other party has an attorney who filed a Limited Scope Appearance in accordance with Illinois Supreme Court Rule 13(c)(6), you must serve both the other party and the Limited Scope Attorney. Serving the wrong person may result in a denial of your motion/petition.

    **Please note that most items you provide to the judge will need to be filed with the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County.

    A summons is a document that provides official notice of a lawsuit. The notification procedure is called service of process. As a petitioner (the person who started the case), you cannot serve a summons and the petition by yourself.

    For more information review: Serving a summons | Illinois Legal Aid Online

    No, but either you or your spouse must live in Cook County to file for dissolution in Cook County. You may file your case at the Daley Center or the suburban municipal district court locations if at least one of the parties resides within the geographical boundaries of the respective suburban district. Please note that, in accordance with state law, the Court will not be able to enter a judgment in your case unless you or your spouse has resided in Illinois for at least 90 days. See 750 ILCS 5/401.

    If you are the Respondent in a Domestic Relations case that was filed in a suburban district, you have the option of having the case transferred to the Daley Center, 50 W. Washington, Chicago, IL 60602. Such a transfer shall not be deemed an exercise of your statutory right for Substitution of Judge. You must file a district transfer form with your appearance in order to have the case transferred to the Daley Center. You cannot file a district transfer form after you have filed your appearance. Once you properly file your district transfer form, your case will be automatically transferred to the Daley Center where it will be randomly assigned to a judge at the Daley Center. See Circuit Court of County Rule 13.2(f).

    Yes, if you qualify for a fee waiver (a 298 Petition or an Application for Waiver of Court Fees). To learn more about fee waivers and for guidance on completing and filing your petition, click here. Please see Illinois Supreme Court Rule 298.

    The cases will be consolidated by the Presiding Judge of the Domestic Relations Division. This means the cases will be heard together before one judge. The judge assigned to the case with the lowest numbered case will be the judge who hears both cases. For example, if wife files first and receives case number 18 D 1, and husband files second receiving case number 18 D 2, the cases will be consolidated into 18 D 1 and heard by the judge assigned to 18 D 1. If there is a pending independent order of protection case involving both parties during the pendency of the parties’ domestic relations case, the order of protection case will be consolidated with the domestic relations case and heard by the domestic relations judge. See Circuit Court of County Rule 13.2(n).

    If you or the other party is engaged in active military service at the time your case is pending in the Domestic Relations Division, the case may be transferred to the Military Calendar. The Military Calendar ensures that no court action will take place while a party is engaged in active military service and that no default will be taken against a military member based upon an absence or inability to comply with court orders. However, all existing orders in the case will remain in full force and effect. Cases transferred to the Military Calendar shall remain on the Military Calendar until the court transfers the case back to the regular active calendar. Any party may petition the court for the return of the case to the court’s regular calendar sixty (60) days after the termination of the active military service or upon a showing that the party is now able to participate in the court proceedings. 

    In order to place a case on the Military Calendar, the party engaged in active military service is required to demonstrate to the court by documentation from the Judge Advocate General Corps (JAG), commanding officer or other ranking member stating that the party will not be able to participate in court proceedings on account of active military service. If you are in the military, there are military attorneys that can help you determine what steps need to be taken in order to move your case to the Military Calendar. 

    See Circuit Court of Cook County Rule 13.2(i) for more information.

    The Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS) offers free child support enforcement services to Illinois. For more information, or to enroll for child support services, please call (800) 447-4278 or visit

    Please note, however, that when HFS becomes involved in the collection of child support, they do not act as the attorney for the parent receiving child support. They act on the state’s behalf as a separate party to the action, just like each parent acts as a separate party to the action. 

    The only grounds for dissolution the IMDMA recognizes is irreconcilable differences. In your Petition for Dissolution, you must establish that irreconcilable differences have caused the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage and that efforts at reconciliation have failed or that future attempts at reconciliation would be impracticable and not in the best interests of the family. 

    If the parties have lived separate and apart (i.e. have not acted as spouses) for a continuous period of not less than 6 months immediately preceding the entry of the judgment dissolving the marriage, there is an irrebuttable presumption that the requirement of irreconcilable differences has been met.

    For more information, please see 750 ILCS 5/401 and 750 ILCS 5/403.

    If you and your spouse reconcile, you have the option of requesting a dismissal of your dissolution of marriage or requesting that the case be put on the Reconciliation Calendar. Both options require filing a motion making the specific request to dismiss your case or to have your case placed on the Reconciliation Calendar, providing notice of the motion to the other side, and presenting the motion to the court.

    Dismissal of Case: If the court grants your request to dismiss your case, your case will no longer be pending in court. This means all court orders will be terminated and no longer enforceable. If you or your spouse decide later to proceed with your divorce, you or your spouse will have to file a new case with the Clerk of Circuit Court’s Office and pay all the initial filing fees again.

    Reconciliation Calendar: If the court grants a request for your case to be placed on the Reconciliation Calendar, the case will remain pending. However, all prior orders of court, including access to the court for enforcement and discovery, shall be considered suspended, unless otherwise expressly agreed to by the parties or ordered by the court.

    See Circuit Court of Cook County Rule 13.2(g) for more information regarding the Reconciliation Calendar. 

    Orders of protection are governed under the Illinois Domestic Violence Act (IDVA). Under the IDVA, a victim of abuse must have a family or household relationship with the person abusing them. A petition for an order of protection may be filed only by those persons who: (a) are being abused by a family or household member; (b) are filing it on behalf of a minor child or adult who is being abused by a family or household member, and who, because of age, health, disability, or inaccessibility, cannot file the petition on their own; or (c) are filing it on behalf of a high-risk adult with disabilities who has been abused, neglected, or exploited by a family or household member.

    There is no cost to file an order of protection. For more information about the Illinois Domestic Violence Act of 1986, see 750 ILCS 60/101 et seq.

    For assistance with domestic violence issues, like filing for an Order of Protection, please contact the following organizations:

    • The Remote Orders of Protection Assistance Project: (312) 229-6020 
    • Sarah’s Inn, Metro Family Services and Family Rescue Hotline: (708) 689-3422 
    • Ascend Justice Remote Order of Protection Hotline: (312) 239-0413

    If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, we strongly encourage you to seek legal advice.

    To find information on how to file an order of protection, click here.

    Adoptions are heard in the County Division, not in the Domestic Relations Division.

    Guardianship cases are heard in the Probate Division, not in the Domestic Relations Division.

    Common Terminology

      • 604.10 Evaluation: An evaluation by a mental health professional to assist the Court in determining the best interests of the children. A report is made in writing and sent to parties and the court no later than sixty (60) days before trial or hearing on allocation is set to commence. The report may be admitted into evidence without further testimony, unless a party objects. The evaluator is subject to cross-examination.
      • Adjudicated: A formal decision, often in the form of a judgment, made by the court. 
      • Adjudicated Father: A man who has been adjudicated by a court of competent jurisdiction to be the legal father of a child. 
      • Application for Waiver of Fees a/k/a 298 Fee Waiver: This allows litigants to waive filing fees during a court action. Orders are entered based on the poverty guidelines. 
      • Attorney for the Child: Independent attorney for the child that owes the same duties of undivided loyalty, confidentiality, and competent representation as are due to an adult client.
      • Child Representative: A child representative is an attorney who advocates what the child representative finds to be in the best interests of the child after reviewing the facts and circumstances of the case. The child representative meets with the child and the parties, investigates the facts of the case, and encourages settlement and the use of alternative forms of dispute resolution. The child representative has the same authority and obligation to participate in the litigation as does an attorney for a party, and possesses all the powers of investigation as a Guardian ad Litem (see below). The child representative must consider, but is not bound by, the expressed wishes of the child. Child Representatives are often appointed by the court. 
      • Child’s Home State: A home state is the state in which a child lived with a parent or a person acting as a parent for at least six consecutive months immediately before the commencement of a child-custody proceeding. In the case of a child less than six months of age, the term means the state in which the child lived from birth with any of the persons mentioned. A period of temporary absence of any of the mentioned persons is part of the period.
      • Cook County Clerk’s Office: An office responsible for maintaining all court files and recording court proceedings and determinations. The Clerk’s Office is the primary source for obtaining copies of court forms, orders, and filed documents. 
      • Consolidating Cases: This occurs when two or more cases with similar facts, circumstances, issues, and/or parties filed and pending in the same court, or when transferred from a different court, are combined in order to increase judicial efficiency and avoid contradicting judgments.
      • Dismissed for Want of Prosecution (DWP): A remedy for a court when there is little or no activity on a case. Specifically, this means that the plaintiff has done nothing to move the case forward in a timely manner. After a court decides a particular case has been idle too long, it will send out a notice of its intention to DWP the case and will set a hearing. If that notice is ignored, the case will be dismissed.
      • Dissolution: A process by which a couple ends their marriage permanently through a divorce.
      • Emergency Order of Protection: An Emergency Order of Protection (EOP) is a court order that protects the petitioner from harm by the respondent. An EOP takes effect as soon as the judge approves it. Since there is a serious risk of harm, the law does not require the respondent to know about the hearing. This is known as an “ex parte” hearing. 
      • Financial Affidavit: An affidavit containing incomes, expenses, debts, and assets. Pursuant to Cook County local rule 13.3.1, a financial affidavit is part of the mandatory disclosures for pre-decree proceedings involving property, child support, maintenance, attorney fees, or educational expenses. The affidavit is also mandatory in post-decree matters involving the same. A financial affidavit is one of the approved standardized statewide forms provided by the Illinois Supreme Court. A material change in circumstances requires updating the affidavit. 
      • Guardian ad Litem: A guardian ad litem (also known as a “GAL”) is an attorney appointed to investigate the best interest of the child(ren) and make recommendations to the court. The guardian ad litem is required to investigate the facts of the case, interview the child(ren) and the parties, and submit a written recommendation to the court. The GAL may be called as a witness at trial for purposes of cross-examination regarding the guardian ad litem's report or recommendations. GALs may be present for all court proceedings, issue subpoenas, and file pleadings related to procedural matters. GALs are often referred to as the “eyes and the ears of the court.”
      • Hearing/Trial: A legal proceeding where an issue of law or fact is tried and evidence is presented to help determine the issue. The terms are used interchangeably. “Summary hearings” are non-evidentiary and include hearings on temporary child support and maintenance, motions for summary judgment, and discovery objections. 
      • Interim Order of Protection: Courts may issue an Interim Order of Protection to cover the period between the time that the respondent has been served with notice of the proceedings and the final hearing on the merits of the case. Interim orders of protection may be effective for up to thirty (30) days. Unlike an Emergency Order of Protection, an Interim Order of Protection requires that the respondent be served with notice, that the petitioner shows a diligent attempt to serve notice, or that the respondent has appeared in court or filed an appearance.
      • Maintenance: Maintenance, formerly known as alimony, is spousal support awarded after a dissolution or legal separation. The court must consider a host of factors when deciding if maintenance is appropriate. Maintenance may be awarded on a temporary basis (during the pendency of the action), fixed-term, indefinite, or reviewable term. Maintenance may also be reserved for a period of time. Maintenance may be awarded pursuant to statutory guidelines. A court may deviate from the statutory guidelines after considering all relevant factors or if guideline maintenance results in a combined maintenance and child support obligation that exceeds 50% of the payor’s net income. 
      • Motion: A motion is a written request or proposal to the court to obtain an asked-for order, ruling, or direction. There are a variety of motions, and it has become standard practice to file certain kinds of motions with the court based on the type of case. First time up motions are scheduled through the Clerk’s Office.
      • MSA: A Marriage Settlement Agreement is a contract entered into freely and fairly by the parties and resolves issues like property division, contribution of attorney fees, and child support. 
      • Parentage: In parentage cases, the court makes orders that say who the child’s legal parents are. Once parentage is established, the court may make orders for child support, health insurance, child custody, visitation, name change, etc.
      • Parental Responsibilities: Both parenting time and significant decision making. Allocation judgments divide the parental responsibilities amongst a child’s legal guardians. Parties may agree to an allocation of parental responsibilities, which the court will review and approve if the agreement is deemed to be in the best interest of the child. If parties cannot agree, the court will decide. 
      • Parenting Time: A specified period of time each parent is responsible for exercising caretaking functions and non-significant decision-making responsibilities for their child. 
      • Petition: A legal document formally requesting a court order and setting out the petitioner’s version of the facts at issue.
      • Pleading Pleadings are formal documents filed with the court that state the parties' basic positions.
      • Plenary Order of Protection: A Plenary Order of Protection (OP or POP) is issued by a judge after a hearing with both the petitioner and the respondent. Although the person accused of the abuse must be notified about the hearing, they may choose not to appear. When a POP is granted, it lasts for up to two (2) years.
      • Postcard Status Call: A postcard status call is when the Clerk of the Circuit Court sends out a notification to the parties/attorneys. Judges have a designated weekly postcard status date and time.
      • Post-Decree: A post-decree case is when a judgment has been entered on the case. In other words, the parties have divorced, parentage has been adjudicated, and/or an allocation judgment was entered. 
      • Pre-Decree: A pre-decree case is a case where a judgment has not been entered.
      • Pre-Trial Conference: An informal meeting at which opposing attorneys meet with the judge to work toward the disposition of the case by discussing matters of evidence and narrowing the issues that will be tried. The conference takes place shortly before trial and ordinarily results in a pretrial order. 
      • Prove-up: In the Domestic Relations Division, a prove-up hearing is typically when a judge finalizes a divorce after both spouses have reached an agreement on all matters in their divorce case and have agreed upon the final divorce papers. 
      • Putative Father: A man who might be a child's biological father, but is not the legal father. 
      • QDRO: Order that creates or recognizes the existence of an alternate payee’s right to receive all or a portion of the benefits payable with respect to a participant under a plan. 
      • QILDRO: An Illinois court order that creates or recognizes the existence of an alternate payee’s right to receive all or a portion of a member’s accrued benefits in a retirement system.
      • Right of First Refusal: If a party intends to leave the minor child or children with a substitute child-care provider for a significant period of time, that party must first offer the other party an opportunity to personally care for the minor child or children.
      • Self-Represented Litigant or Pro Se: A litigant without an attorney who represents themselves in legal proceedings. 
      • Service: Service provides notice to the Respondent that a lawsuit has been filed against them, and provides instruction about how to participate in a case. Methods of service include personal, mail, email/text/social media, and publication. The type of service required depends on the filing. 
      • Significant Decision Making: Deciding issues of long-term importance in the life of a child. There are four major categories: (1) education, (2) health, (3) religion, and (4) extra-curricular activities. A court makes a determination as to the allocation of parental responsibilities based on what is in the child’s best interest
      • State Disbursement Unit: The Illinois State Disbursement Unit (ILSDU) is the payments processing center for all Illinois child support payments.
      • Status Call: Status calls are conducted by the courts to find out the status of the cases. In order to stay on top of a case, the court requires attorneys to regularly provide updates on the case. 
      • Substitution of Judge (SOJ) as of Right: A type of motion that allows a party to request a substitution of judge. If no substantial ruling has been made by the current judge, each party may motion for a substitution of judge as of right one time during the case. 
      • Substitution of Judge (SOJ) for Cause: A type of petition that allows a party to request a substitution of judge. SOJ for Cause is granted when a judge has shown actual prejudice against a party. When a petition is filed, it is transferred to another judge for a hearing.
      • UCCJEA: The Uniform Child-Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) applies to cases where parties are in dispute on which state has jurisdiction over an issue. The UCCJEA may apply to the following proceedings: divorce, separation, neglect, abuse, dependency, guardianship, paternity, termination of parental rights, and protection from domestic violence, in which the issues of custody or visitation may appear. 
      • Uniform Order of Support: After a court has determined a child support amount, the Court will enter a Uniform Order for Support. A support order will include: (a) the amount of payment, (b) the frequency of payments, (c) who is responsible for paying health insurance, (d) the percentage of uninsured medical costs for which the payor is responsible, (e) whether the payments will be deducted from the payor’s paycheck, or whether the payor is responsible for direct payments, and (f) the termination date.
      • Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity: A voluntary acknowledgment of paternity (VAP) is a legal form that establishes a legal parent-child relationship.
      • Verified Petition: A formal written request to a court for an order of the court (1) under oath taken before a notary public or other officer authorized to take affidavits and to administer oaths or (2) under a declaration stating in substance "I declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct" and further stating the date and place of execution.