Divorces are divorces, or are they?

November 9, 2020

From time to time, I attend continuing education classes that family law and domestic litigation attorneys from all over Illinois attend. When these classes were in person (you know, like a million years ago), invariably attorneys would gather on lunch breaks to talk. Usually attorneys who knew each other would congregate together. I, being a smoker and a bit of the odd duck. would head outside and talk to strangers. In doing so, I have met attorneys from all over the state.


In meeting attorneys who do not routinely practice in Madison or St. Clair Counties, I have learned that the practice of divorce law here is VERY different than divorces in Sangamon, Mt. Vernon, Peroria and Cook Counties. The differences are individually subtle, but when added together, are vast.


For example, how you file a case in Cook County is very different than in St. Clair. How you approach a judge in Jersey County is different than in Washington County. How you put something on the court’s calendar differs from county to county. The words, terms and required forms are vastly different as well, and some counties require things others do not. If you file a required St. Clair County form in Macoupin County, you might get ridiculed. If you use a Madison County term in Washington County, the judge will look at you like you have frogs jumping out of your ears. That is not what a client needs.


What does that mean for a divorce lawyer? Well, you could choose how to practice in 102 counties, or, you can choose to focus on a few. It is my opinion that an attorney can spread herself too thin knowing how to practice in 102 places, not really having a handle on the peculiarities of each courthouse she can appear in. Or, she can choose to practice in one county, where she can be very knowledgeable about the practice there, but runs a risk of losing adaptability. Or, she can limit her practice to a reasonable area that all handles cases similarly, albeit each with their own quirks. That is the path I have chosen. After appearing in over 40 counties by 2014, I have limited my practice back to the ones that are about an hour from my office, which is where I have appeared the most. It is the right answer for me, but not others. Besides, in some of those years, I was driving over 25,000 miles for court appearances, spending early mornings in the car, not really helping clients. I did learn, however, how to find a courthouse in a town when GPS is not working (look for the tallest building – its within a few blocks), where to spot the cleanest bathroom near the courthouse (either at the interstate exit or the one close to the courthouse with well-maintained pumps), and how to find a decent cup of coffee on the road (within 3 blocks of the courthouse).


So, while a divorce filed in Illinois is designed to terminate the legal relationship between 2 persons, how you get there is very different depending on the county. As a result, if the case is out of my area, which is St. Clair, Madison, Jersey, Macoupin, Bond, Clinton, Washington and Monroe Counties, I will likely refer you out. Besides, after 16 years of classes, I have met attorneys from all over the state. I probably know someone where you are.