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How to Reduce Divorce Filing Fees in Cook County

In some states, like California and New York, the fee charged to file a new divorce case is the same statewide. In other states, the fee varies—sometimes quite a bit—from county to county. As you might expect, the more populous the county, the higher the filing fee. In Illinois, where divorce filing fees usually range from $210.00 to $320.00 depending on the county, Cook County has the highest filing fee.

Divorce Filing Fees in Cook County

When you file for divorce in Cook County, the Circuit Court Clerk's office charges a $368.00 filing fee. As the party filing for divorce, the Petitioner pays that fee. If your divorce is uncontested, and you and your spouse have reached an agreement on all issues, you can file a Marital Settlement Agreement. To file a Settlement Agreement, the Respondent is also required to file a form called an Appearance and pay an appearance fee of $237.00.

Below is a breakdown of the filing fee when the Respondent's Appearance is filed--i.e. when you have a Marital Settlement Agreement. As you can see, several fees are charged twice. One set is for the Petitioner as additions to the $240.00 base filing fee, for a total of 368.00, and the other set is added to the $110.00 base appearance fee for Respondent, for a total of $237.00.

Fee DescriptionPetitionerRespondent
Access Justice Fund$2.00$2.00
Base Filing Fee 6$240.00$0.00
Appearance Fee 3$0.00$110.00
Arbitration$10.00$10.00
Automation$25.00$25.00
Children Waiting Rm$10.00$10.00
Court Services$25.00$25.00
Dispute Resolution$1.00$0.00
Document Storage$25.00$25.00
e-Business$9.00$9.00
Law Library$21.00$21.00
Total Fees$368.00$237.00
E-filing Convenience Fee*$2.95$0.00
E-filing Payment Fee*$21.83$0.00
Total Fees (with e-filing)$384.27$237.00

As a practical matter though, the fee should really be viewed as one single fee of $605.00 ($621.27 if e-filing using UScourts.com) paid by whomever does the e-filing, generally the Petitioner, because when you file the Marital Settlement Agreement with the Respondent's Appearance at the same time as the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, the appearance fee will be added to the filing fee. Petitioner would then need to make arrangements with the Respondent to reimburse the appearance fee.

A Cheaper Way to Divorce

If instead, you and your spouse have agreed on all matters, but the two of you don't need a written Marital Settlement Agreement, the Respondent does not need to file an Appearance, and he or she should not be charged $237.00 appearance fee. That being said, since the Respondent won't be filing an Appearance, the Petitioner must have the Petition for Dissolution formally served on the Respondent by either the Sheriff's office in the county where the Respondent lives or by a private commercial process server. If the Respondent lives in Cook County, the Sheriff will charge $60.00 for the service fee. In other counties, or with a private process server, fees will vary. This fee is paid by the Petitioner as the party requesting service. After service is complete, the server will file an Affidavit of Service to prove to the Court that the Respondent was properly served. If the Respondent doesn't file any documents in the case, after 30 days he or she is in default. Note: Divorce by default is not allowed when the Respondent is active-duty military because of protections granted to servicemembers under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.

Below is a breakdown of the filing fee when the Respondent defaults—i.e. when no Appearance is filed within 30 days of service.

Fee DescriptionPetitionerRespondent
Access Justice Fund$2.00$0.00
Base Filing Fee 6$240.00$0.00
Appearance Fee 3$0.00$0.00
Arbitration$10.00$0.00
Automation$25.00$0.00
Children Waiting Rm$10.00$0.00
Court Services$25.00$0.00
Dispute Resolution$1.00$0.00
Document Storage$25.00$0.00
e-Business$9.00$0.00
Law Library$21.00$0.00
Total Fees$368.00$0.00
Sheriff/Process Server$60.00$0.00
E-filing Convenience Fee$2.95$0.00
E-filing Payment Fee$13.32$0.00
Total Fees (with e-filing)$444.27$0.00

If you e-file your divorce case between now and July 1, 2018 using USCourts.com and want to avoid the appearance fee, you must select "no" to the File Appearance question on their website. This will let the system know that you are not filing the Respondent's Appearance form with your case and will avoid the payment of that fee. However, remember that Respondent's Appearance and the appearance fee will be required if you intend to file a writtenMarital Settlement Agreement.

How to Avoid E-Filing Fees

As of January 1, 2018, all dissolution of marriage cases filed in Illinois were supposed to be e-filed using eFileIL. A handful of counties were unable to meet this deadline and requested extensions (Illinois E-filing Problems). Per the order of the Illinois Supreme Court, Cook County now has until July 1, 2018 to complete migration to eFileIL. Unlike Cook's standalone e-filing system, USCourts.com, eFileIL does not charge fees for using their service. For this reason, the Court ruled that Cook County filers may continue to do paper filings if they want to avoid those additional fees. Unless they are unable to meet the deadline and attempt to obtain another extension, Cook County must be fully migrated to eFileIL no later than July 1st. For now though, it is up to the person filing for divorce to decide if the convenience of e-filing is worth the convenience fee and payment fee. Likewise, the spouses in an uncontested divorce must also decide if they prefer to pay the $237.00 appearance fee to be able to file a Marital Settlement Agreement and avoid having to arrange for the Respondent to be formally served with divorce papers.

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