The legal particulars of divorcing are different based on where a couple lives, according to two lawyers who practice in Iowa and Illinois.
(Editor's note: This is part of a Quad-City Times series called "State of Marriage". Read the rest of the series at stateofmarriage.com.)
Cathy Cartee predominantly handles divorces in Iowa. Alicia Gieck takes a lot of Illinois cases.
One of the most significant differences is that Iowa is a no-fault state, which means one side cannot attribute fault to the other. A
90-day waiting period before the finalization of the divorce is required, Cartee said.
Illinois has both fault and no-fault divorce. The most common fault used by petitioners is extreme mental cruelty, Gieck said. There is no waiting period for finalization for a fault divorce. For a no-fault divorce, the couple must have lived "separate and apart" for more than two years, a time period that can be reduced to six months if agreed to by both spouses.
A second significant difference has to do with what is known as joint physical care of the children of a couple - or, a couple evenly splitting time with the kids. Joint physical care is allowed in each state. However, Iowa judges must consider the option if the case goes to trial. Illinois judges cannot consider such an arrangement if it goes to trial, Gieck said.
Both states require that couples who have children and are divorcing take a class about what their children are experiencing. In Iowa, it's called "Children in the Middle." In Illinois, it's called "Transparenting."
Figuring out child support is much more complex in Iowa than Illinois, the two said. Iowa has new standards based on several factors that Cartee thinks may result in more litigation between divorcing spouses. In Illinois, it's a straight percentage.
Illinois requires a couple to go to a mediator to work out child custody issues. While Iowa does not require mediation, couples who are unable to settle on their own go before a judge for what is known as a settlement conference in hopes of avoiding a trial, Cartee said.
The vast majority of divorce cases settle before trial, Cartee noted. In Illinois, each case is assigned a judge. In Iowa, a different judge may handle a variety of hearings in contested divorce cases.
And even though there may be differences in the law, judges in Iowa and Illinois generally consider similar things when settling property and child custody issues, Cartee and Gieck said.
Both Cartee and Gieck are seeing fewer people with low incomes divorcing and more people trying to divorce without the assistance of an attorney. While it can be done, they say that complicated legal issues - such as those surrounding retirement accounts - make it difficult for people to go it alone.
Added to that, divorce is often one of the darkest times of a person's life.
"People do things in the midst of a divorce they would not do otherwise," Gieck said. "We see people at their worst."