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The Whos, Whats, and Whys of Mediation

Are you going through a divorce?  Has a mediator been appointed in your case and you are wondering what this means?   Basically, mediation is a tool that is used in cases involving disputes relating to a child or children.  In Illinois, it is mandatory when the parents of the children do not have a Joint Parenting Agreement to present to the Court on or before the initial case management date.  In these matters, the Judge will order the parents to participate in mediation to resolve some, if not all, of the issues related to the children.

The court has a list of approved mediators who can be attorneys, psychologists, psychiatrists, or social workers trained to work with family conflicts.  In divorce cases where the parties are represented by divorce attorneys, the attorneys try to come to an agreement as to which mediator to have appointed, depending on factors such as geography (how far the parties have to travel to meet with a mediator) and cost.  When the parties and/or their attorneys cannot agree on a mediator, the Judge will select one for them.

What is a Mediation Order?  If a mediator is appointed in your case, you will receive a copy of the Order appointing the mediator.  The Order will contain the mediator’s name and contact information, as well as other important instructions such as when each parent must contact the mediator and how to register for any court-approved and/or court-mandating parenting programs.  In McHenry County, each party must complete a required parenting program that is handled through McHenry County College.

The Order will also state how much each parent must pay for mediation. Usually, the cost is split 50/50, but if there is a significant disparity of income between the parties this amount may be revised by the Judge.  The Order will also contain your next court date.  This date is typically about 45-60 days after the mediator is appointed to give time for mediation to (hopefully) be completed.

Read the entire Order for Mediation thoroughly and carefully. If you have any questions, contact your attorney.  If you don’t have an attorney and have questions, you should consider hiring a qualified, professional family law attorney.

A mediator was appointed to my case.  What next?   After the mediator is contacted by both parents, he or she will schedule a solo session with each parent and at least one joint mediation session.  The mediator sets a minimum number of sessions required to satisfy the court’s mandatory Mediation Order and after the minimum number of sessions has been completed, either of the parties (or the mediator) can terminate mediation. However, mediation can continue as long as the parties agree to continue and as long as progress is being made to resolve the issues related to the children.

What do I have to do to prepare for my mediation sessions?  To get the most out of your mediation sessions, and to reduce the cost of unnecessary additional sessions, it is important to get organized and know what you are asking for.  Write down a brief summary or outline of what you think is best for your children and why. Specifically, think about the issues related to the designation of majority parent, decision-making, and the parenting time schedule. Focus on facts and circumstances that explain why your opinion is best for your children.  This will help you organize your thoughts and will prepare you for a more productive mediation session.

While it may be of vital importance to you, it is important to note that your mediator is not interested in the amount of child support you expect to be paid or to pay.  That is not his or her focus in mediation and unless otherwise agreed to, the mediator is not concerned about any aspects of the financial disposition of the marital estate.

Be prepared to view the issues from both sides.  As hard as it seems, in addition to discussing your side of the issues, try to see it from your spouse’s or partner’s side.  You should know what the other parent wants and why. Be open to discussing alternatives and compromises in the spirit of moving toward resolution of the issues. And above all, be truthful. You are far better off explaining a negative fact or circumstance to the mediator as opposed to having the other parent tell only their version of it.

No kids allowed.  Do not take your children to mediation sessions unless specifically requested to do so by the mediator.  Also, do not discuss the mediation sessions with your children as they are meant to encourage settlements and are confidential.

Mediation can be daunting and costly, but if you have an experienced divorce lawyer helping you navigate the system, it is a tool that can get you where you want to go and resolve sticking points that are preventing you from getting the divorce you want.

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