Understanding the organization of the Courts and where to file, although a necessity, can seem daunting at first. However, in Cook County, the court structure is relatively straightforward, with six different municipal court venues. It is necessary to file within the correct municipal court in order to avoid delays and additional expenses. Your attorney will also have opinions about where your case should be filed (which we discuss in more detail below).
Your “Venue” Is Your Court
In the legal system, a venue is traditionally defined as where the case is filed and heard by a Judge. Typically, this is within the county where one or both of the parties reside. In Domestic relations (including in cases of divorce or parental allocation a.k.a. custody), you can file within the county where either party resides or where the minor child resides. Filing in the wrong venue will cause a delay in the case while it is transferred to the correct venue. This delay may mean having to take more time off of work to attend hearings and greater attorney costs. Cases are not dismissed solely for being in the wrong venue (unless there is not a proper venue to transfer the case to), but transferring to the correct venue may require paying a filing fee in the new county. The Respondent (the person the case is filed against) must bring objections of improper venue on or before the date when he/she is required to appear in court. That means that objections to venue are waived if they are not brought up in a timely fashion. Don’t agree to litigate in the wrong court.
Structure of the Circuit Court of Cook County
The Chief Judge presides over all courts within the Circuit Court of Cook County. The Office of the Chief Judge oversees the budget and non-judicial offices including probation and court-supported services (mediators, guardian ad litems, interpreters, etc.). There are three departments within the judiciary—the county department, the juvenile justice and child protection department, and the municipal department.
You must file within the correct district—that which includes the county either you, the other party, or the minor child reside within.
Municipal courts serve a variety of case types, including criminal (traffic, misdemeanor, felony, bond court, violations, and domestic violence), civil (suits, contracts, small claims, housing, and evictions), domestic (divorce, paternity, and child support), and special cases (including juvenile, marriage ceremonies, mental health, and veterans’ court). As mentioned before, your case should be filed within the appropriate municipal district’s domestic court. Failure to do so will result in a transfer of the case to the correct municipal district, and a delay in proceedings.
Cook County’s municipal department is divided into six districts:
The 1st is Chicago. Any Cook County domestic relations case can be filed in the First District, to be heard at the Daley Center in downtown Chicago.
The 2nd is Skokie. To have your divorce or family law case heard in the Second District, you or the Respondent must reside in the Northern suburbs of Cook County (including Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glencoe, Glenview, Golf, Kenilworth, Lincolnwood, Morton Grove, Niles, Northbrook, Northfield, Park Ridge, Skokie, Wilmette, and Winnetka).
The 3rd is Rolling Meadows. To have your divorce or family law case heard in the Third District, you or the Respondent must reside in the Northwestern suburbs of Cook County (including Arlington Heights; Barrington; Barrington Hills; Bartlett; Bensenville; Buffalo Grove; East Dundee; Elgin; Elk Grove Village; Hanover Park; Harwood Heights; Hoffman Estates; Inverness; Mount Prospect; Norridge; Palatine; Prospect Heights; Rolling Meaows; Roselle; Rosemont; Schaumburg; Schiller Park; South Barrington; Streamwood; and Wheeling).
The 4th is Maywood. To have your divorce or family law case heard in the Fourth District, you or the Respondent must reside in the Western suburbs of Cook County (including Bellwood, Berkeley, Berwyn, Broadview, Brookfield, Cicero, Elmwood Park, Forest Park, Franklin Park, Hillside, La Grange Park, Maywood, Melrose Park, Northlake, North Riverside, Oak Park, River Forest, River Grove, Riverside, Stone Park and Westchester).
The 5th is Bridgeview. To have your divorce or family law case heard in the Fifth District, you or the Respondent must reside in the Southwestern suburbs of Cook County (including Alsip; Bedford Park; Bridgeview; Burbank; Burr Ridge; Chicago Ridge; Crestwood; Countryside; Evergreen Park; Forest View; Hickory Hills; Hinsdale; Hodgkins; Hometown; Indian Head Park; Justice; La Grange; Lemont; Lyons; McCook; Merrionette Park; Oak Forest; Oak Lawn; Orland Hills; Orland Park; Palos Heights; Palos Hills; Palos Park; Stickney; Summit; Tinley Park; Western Springs; Willow Springs; Woodridge; and Worth; and the Townships of Lemont, Lyons, Orland, Palos, Stickney, and Worth).
Last is the 6th in Markham. To have your divorce or family law case heard in the Sixth District, you or the Respondent must reside in the Southwestern suburbs of Cook County (including Blue Island, Burnham, Calumet City, Calumet Park, Chicago Heights, Country Club Hills, Crete, Dixmoor, Dolton, East Hazel Crest, Flossmoor, Ford Heights, Glenwood, Harvey, Hazel Crest, Homewood, Lansing, Lynwood, Markham, Matteson, Midlothian, Olympia Fields, Park Forest, Phoenix, Posen, Richton Park, Riverdale, Robbins, Sauk Village, South Chicago Heights, South Holland, Steger, Thornton and the Townships of Bloom, Bremen, Calumet, Rich, and Thornton).
Venue and Strategy
Your attorney will have a preference as to where your case should be filed. That preference may be based on where that attorney most often practices (let’s call it familiarity), notions about how a particular judge might rule, or because a certain venue is more convenient that others. Without knowing your attorney or the reasons behind his or her advice, my inclination is defer to your attorney. He or she knows your case well. However, as in all strategic decisions, request an explanation for why your attorney is taking a certain action. At the end of the day, this is your call and you should be fully aware of what is occurring.
We are always happy to discuss your case (or just get into more detail about venue). Contact us to see how we can help.
This post was written by Maeghan Murphy, former law clerk and Columbia Law ’19, and Joshua E. Stern.