The Law Offices of Jonathan Merel, P.C.
You've come to the right place for an experienced, respected, and aggressive divorce attorney in Chicago, IL. At the Law Offices of Jonathan Merel, P.C., our team has a solid reputation for being some of the best divorce lawyers in Chicago.
What Makes Us Top-Rated Divorce Lawyers?
Are you looking for the best divorce attorneys in Chicago? Come to the Law Offices of Jonathan Merel, P.C. for some of the top divorce and family lawyers in Illinois. But don't take our word for it – our accolades speak for themselves:
It is possible to represent yourself; however, divorce is not a simple legal process. Having a divorce lawyer on your side can make a significant difference in the outcome of your case. It is in your best interests to hire an aggressive divorce attorney in Chicago due to the complex nature of divorces in general.
This is especially true if your spouse hires a divorce lawyer, because the success rate of pro se litigants (individuals representing themselves) against an attorney is very low. The average divorce requires the drafting of numerous legal documents which, if not completed properly, can be devastating to the litigant.
Once they find an attorney you are comfortable with, many litigants feel like a weight has been lifted from their shoulders, since they have an experienced professional to advocate on their behalf.
The Daley Center is the most likely place where you will file for divorce in central Chicago, but you may also file for divorce at any suburban municipal district courthouse if it is closer to your home address.
I Was Served Divorce Papers. Now What?
In order to be officially served divorce papers a legally authorized individual in Illinois must serve them upon you; this is called service of process. Typically a county sheriff or an authorized private individual (special process server) will serve individuals with divorce papers (Petition for Dissolution of Marriage) along with a court Summons by simply handing the papers to you (or a member of your household).
It's important to know that time is of the essence. As the Respondent (the party served with the divorce papers) in an Illinois divorce, you will have 30 days to file an Answer to the petition and file your Appearance.
Upon being served divorce papers, it's in your best interests to hire an experienced attorney. Your lawyer will handle all of the court filings, communication with the opposing counsel, collecting and presenting your financial information and advising you on the appropriate steps to take as your case proceeds.
After the petition and response, both partners may retain their own attorney to represent them through divorce proceedings. Much of the time, once a case gets going and both parties are actively participating, the discovery process will begin. Discovery is generally described as the process of exchanging information relevant to the divorce proceedings, such as income and expense affidavits, alo documentation supporting those financial affidavits.
It is also important to note that child custody, visitation, child support and alimony can also be negotiated at this phase. If the parties cannot resolve their differences through negotiations with their divorce attorneys (or among themselves), they may next attempt to continue negotiations with the assistance of the court. If resolution cannot be reached through negotiations, the case would be set for trial and the relevant final decisions would be made by a judge.
Our Chicago divorce attorneys are also experienced in:
How is a divorce started?Divorce is a legal action starting with a formal written complaint, called the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. In Illinois, divorce is officially referred to as “dissolution of marriage”. If you are the party to file for divorce, you are the “Petitioner” and your spouse will be the Respondent. You will file this along with other forms with the county clerk. Then you will be required to serve your spouse with papers. You have the option of serving these documents with a private process server, the sheriff's office, or a third party who is at least 18 years old. What happens next will depend on how your spouse responds. If he or she is in agreement with the divorce, the action will likely take less time. If he or she is not in agreement, it is what is called “contested.”
What are the procedures for a divorce?
Divorce law proceedings can be complex. However, the overall general steps are as follows:
- One party files a petition for dissolution of marriage, which initiates a divorce case.
- Either party may ask the court for temporary relief relating to parental allocation, financial support, and preserving marital assets. The other party is then served and must respond. Following that, the parties may attempt to negotiate a resolution or, failing that, the case will make its way through court culminating in a trial. The process ends with a finalized judgment either negotiated by both parties or issued by the judge.
How long does divorce take in Chicago?
Unfortunately, there is not a clear and concise answer. Divorce can be over and done in a week, or it can go on for many years. It all depends on the situation at hand, because every case is different. What we can tell you is that there are numerous factors that will impact the time your divorce will take.
The following factors can affect how long divorce takes:
- Child custody issues
- Business valuation
- An unreasonable lawyer or other involved party
- Complex finances
The above reasons are just a few of the factors in determining how long divorce takes. Every case is different. At the end of the day, if a couple approaches the divorce process with logic and the ability to look at the “big picture” their case will typically take a reasonable amount of time, leaving both parties satisfied at the end.
What are the grounds for divorce in Illinois?
There are two primary categories to establish grounds for divorce: irreconcilable differences and fault grounds.
Irreconcilable differences are essentially “no fault” divorce cases where both parties agree that all resources have been exhausted in their attempts to amend the marriage but to no avail. The union cannot be reconciled and it is impractical and not in the best interest of the family unit to continue the relationship.
When couples state irreconcilable differences as the grounds for divorce they must live separate and apart for two years before the case will be finalized. However, if both parties want the divorce, and it is a non-contested case, the couple may sign a “Stipulation and Waiver of Two Year Waiting Period,” stipulating that both parties have lived a minimum of six months apart before finalizing the divorce. It is important to note that even though the law states, ‘living separate and apart’ it does not necessarily mean physically apart.
Fault grounds for divorce are a bit more specific in the criteria and must be proven in the court of law. Even if fault grounds are proven, a judge cannot consider the marital misconduct of a spouse when dividing up marital property or award maintenance.
In Illinois divorces, "marital misconduct" boils down to any behavior that undermines the marital relationship, such as cheating or abuse, which could also be considered reason or "grounds" for divorce in Chicago.
Illinois identifies 10 main “fault” grounds for divorce:
- Infection of a sexually transmitted disease
- Extreme and repeated physical or mental cruelty
- Alcohol/drug addiction
- Felony conviction
- Willful desertion
- An attempt to kill the other spouse by poison or other means showing malice
When a party alleges any of the aforementioned fault grounds for divorce, they must prove to the court his or her spouse is guilty of the allegation. When an individual files for divorce and alleges fault grounds for divorce, the two year waiting period does not apply.
What are the filing fees and costs of divorce?
In Illinois, the filing fee for a divorce case varies by county. For example, it costs $334 to file for a dissolution of marriage in Lake County and $388 to file in the Cook County Circuit Court Clerk’s office. You will also need to pay someone to serve your spouse with divorce papers (this usually costs about $60), and your spouse will have to pay an appearance fee ($250 in Cook County).
During your divorce case, you may face other costs, as well. For example, you might have to pay for court-ordered mediation or parenting classes if the judge decides they are necessary.
If you have a lawyer, you will, of course, need to pay them, as well. In Illinois, the average cost of attorney fees is $10,000.
Ultimately, the cost of your divorce will depend on the specifics of your case. An uncontested divorce with no children, for instance, will be much more affordable than a contested divorce with bitter child custody disputes.
What questions should I ask a divorce lawyer in Illinois?
During your initial consultation with your attorney, you should ask them several questions about how they will handle your case. These questions may include:
- How will we communicate throughout my case? – At the Law Offices of Jonathan Merel, P.C., we provide constant communication and excellent response times via phone calls, emails, in-person meetings, and videoconferencing services.
- How much will my divorce cost? – During your consultation, our attorneys can get to know your case and give you an estimate for how much your divorce will cost.
- Should I be talking to my spouse? – You may need to discuss your divorce case with your spouse, but you should not tell them what you have been discussing with your attorney. If you have a hard time communicating with your spouse, your lawyer can advise you of what is and is not appropriate to talk about and even facilitate difficult conversations.
- What do other clients have to say?– Ask about reviews and testimonials from other clients. Often, you can find these on your lawyer’s website.
- Will my spouse try to make things more difficult for me? – If your spouse does not want to get divorced, they may make the process longer, more expensive, and more difficult overall. Fortunately, if you have a skilled attorney, they can detect and help counter your spouse’s tactics and keep the length, costs, and stress levels of your divorce as low as possible.
The questions you ask your divorce lawyer will help you feel comfortable with them and determine whether you are on the same page about your case. The Law Offices of Jonathan Merel, P.C. takes the time to fully understand your situation and offers personalized attention to help you achieve your goals.
How is property divided in an Illinois divorce?
When a marriage ends and a couple begins the divorce process, they will have to split their marital assets in a process called property division. Illinois is an equitable distribution state when it comes to dividing marital property, which means the court will divided your marital asses "equitably" rather than splitting them 50/50.
Property distribution is often one of the areas of divorce that generate the most disputes, especially when a couple has a complex financial portfolio. Make sure you have an experienced and relentless divorce attorney on your side to protect your separate assets and ensure you get your fair share of the assets in a divorce.
What should I look for in a divorce lawyer?
If you are considering divorce or have been handed divorce papers by your spouse, you may be wondering how to begin the process of finding an attorney. Choosing the right divorce lawyer can be a crucial factor in achieving a fair and amicable divorce settlement, as well as helping keep your stress levels low in the weeks or months ahead. However, with so many options to choose from, it can be difficult to know what to look for in a divorce lawyer.
When you are looking for the right divorce attorney to handle your case, you should consider:
- Experience with cases like yours: Every divorce is unique, with its own set of complexities and challenges. Look for an attorney who has experience handling cases that involve issues similar to yours, such as child custody or complex financial situations.
- Ability to handle all parts of a case: While many divorce cases are settled outside of court, it's important to choose an attorney who is comfortable and capable of handling litigation if necessary. Overall, you will be more comfortable if you know that your attorney can handle all parts and steps of your case, so you don’t have to worry about part of it being passed to another firm.
- Communication with clients: Divorce is an emotional and stressful process. You will want an attorney who will clearly and compassionately communicate with you so as not to add to the stress. Look for an attorney who is responsive to emails and phone calls and takes the time to answer your questions with genuine interest.
- Personality and approachability: Your divorce attorney should be someone who you feel comfortable speaking and working with. You are on the same team in the divorce case, so you have to work well together, even if you are leaving all the legal work up to them. Pay attention to their demeanor during your initial consultation and trust your instincts about whether they seem like a good fit for you.
- Clear explanation of attorney fees: No one likes being surprised by fees for any product or service. Divorce counsel or representation is no exception. It's important to understand how much you will be paying for a divorce lawyer’s help, so don’t hesitate to ask them about their legal fees. Look for an attorney who is transparent about their fees and explains them clearly, including any retainer fees or hourly rates that apply to your case.
What is the difference between legal separation and divorce?During a legal separation, couples live apart while they resolve issues surrounding the divorce, such as spousal maintenance, child support, and parenting time. Unlike a divorce, a legal separation does not end the marriage or allow for remarriage. If reconciliation does not occur, the ultimate divorce may be less contentious and costly after legal separation because many of the issues surrounding the divorce have already been resolved in the previous court proceeding.
What are the residency requirements to file for a divorce in Chicago?To file for a divorce in Chicago, you must have been a resident of Illinois for at least 90 days. You also must be a resident of the county where you are filing. If you have children, they must have lived in Illinois for at least six months prior to your filing with the court.
- Circuit Court of Cook County - Court Locations
- Circuit Court of Cook County - Filing and Answering a Petition for Dissolution or Civil Union
- Court Forms - Petition for Dissolution of Marriage/Civil Union (PDF)
- Court Forms - All Forms (Domestic Relations Division)
- Richard J. Daley Center - Directory
MerelFounder and Managing PrincipalJonathan Merel is an experienced attorney who advocates for his clients in all divorce and family law proceedings, including settlement negotiations and trials. Jonathan founded the Law Offices of Jonathan Merel, P.C. in early 2009 after working for many ...
Caballero DunnManaging PartnerTo clients, Melissa Caballero Dunn is “the best” and a “rare” family attorney. To our firm, she is the engine that keeps us running a smooth operation. As Managing Partner, The Law Offices of Jonathan Merel relies on Melissa to know what's around every ...
DelgadoPartnerKatherine “Kat” Delgado counsels her family law clients with knowledge and compassion throughout their cases, including during settlement negotiations, in court, and in other adversarial settings throughout litigation. Her goal with every client is to ...
DeSanaPartnerJackie is a skilled and compassionate attorney who is dedicated to helping her clients navigate difficult situations. Jackie graduated from Wayne State University in 2012 where she received a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. Jackie continued her ...
FitzpatrickPartnerAurelija Fitzpatrick believes that a large part of her job is being a problem solver. She also understands that people are often misunderstood. Aurelija has a unique ability to collaborate with family law clients by listening to her client's concerns, ...
KayePartnerBrad Kaye is a divorce and family law attorney who knows how to win. His clients rave about his preparation and support as their divorce attorney . Brad gives his clients confidence in court, whether it's with a professional athlete, music industry ...
MargasonPartnerCharacterized by her ability to navigate the always diverse circumstances of family law cases, Ashley Margason is a trusted family law attorney with a reputation for extensive knowledge and efficiency. A client’s family law needs are unique. Every case is ...
McSurleyPartnerWilliam’s demonstrated ability to exploit all aspects of the legal process to his client’s advantage has helped divorce clients avoid costly litigation altogether, or prevail when such conflicts cannot be avoided. William places an emphasis on using his ...
NortonPartnerJosie graduated from DePaul University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology and Psychology (2013). Josie continued on to receive her Juris Doctor from Chicago-Kent College of Law (2017), where she was named to the Dean’s List and earned a Certificate in ...
TararaPartnerAnnemarie Tarara is on the cutting edge of LGBTQ+ family law issues such as second-parent adoptions and the dissolution of same-sex marriages, civil unions, & domestic partnerships. She also represents clients in obtaining orders of protection and in ...
ZwaskaPartnerDavid Zwaska is an experienced litigator who makes the law digestible for family law clients every step of the way. Sure, Dave has the awards and resume that make him look like a great attorney to hire, including clerking for the Honorable Judge Raul Vega ...
BerndtAssociateKelsey graduated from Michigan State University in 2018 with her Bachelor's in Social Relations & Policy and Women's & Gender Studies, where she found a passion for advocating on the behalf of those in need. Kelsey then attended Penn State Law, receiving ...
BroekemaAssociateMarleena graduated from Michigan State University in 2014 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Theory and Women’s Studies. Marleena continued on to receive her Juris Doctor from DePaul University College of Law in 2018, where she earned a certificate in ...
CashAssociateJeffrey Cash has focused his practice exclusively in the area of family law since 2014 and has represented individuals in all aspects of family law matters, including divorce , paternity, the allocation of parental responsibilities , parenting time, child ...
DeanAssociateMitchell graduated from the University of Iowa in 2017 with a Bachelor’s Degree in History and a Minor in Political Science. Thereafter, Mitchell attended DePaul University College of Law, graduating in May 2021 with a Certificate in Business Law. While ...
Hartrum IVAssociateLaude’s approach to family law is both comprehensive and client-centered. After graduating from the University of Michigan in 2017 and DePaul University College of Law in 2020, Laude was admitted to the Illinois Bar in 2021. During law school, Laude ...
LeeuwenburgAssociateCora attended Loyola University School of Law and practiced as a 711 student-attorney with the school’s Community Law Clinic where she gained experience as a Guardian ad Litem representing children in court. Cora has always been interested in family law ...
RyterskiAssociateBorn in Rochester, Michigan, Paige obtained her Paralegal Certificate and Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration in her hometown. By the time she was 21, Paige was finished with college and working as a Paralegal for a Criminal Defense firm in ...
TrabarisAssociateWill is devoted to guiding his clients through the difficult waters of divorce and other family law proceedings. Will knows that this process can be emotionally taxing and complex, so he prides himself on being a steady hand – as well as a clear head – ...
Contact a Divorce Attorney in Chicago, IL – (312) 487-2795
Ready to speak to a top divorce lawyer near you? No matter what your Illinois divorce entails, you can rest assured that our Chicago divorce firm has the knowledge and skill to represent you. We focus exclusively on divorce and family law and are prepared to provide the tailored representation and counsel that you need to get the best possible results. Set up your consultation today!
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