Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution. In a typical mediation setting, the parties meet with a mediator who attempts to assist the parties in resolving their conflict. In a contested family law case, there may be many issues to resolve. For example, many issues upon which people disagree include: how to divide property and debts, with whom a child shall live, whether the parties will share joint legal custody of the child, and whether one party will pay maintenance to another party. While some cases are destined to be decided by the Judge in court because the parties cannot agree, other cases can be resolved more quickly and cheaply through mediation.
A mediator will not make a decision after hearing both parties’ positions, but rather should attempt to guide the parties to a resolution. There are many benefits to mediation. It is usually much less expensive than a divorce trial, it is confidential, and you and the other party control the process of resolving your disputed issues. Mediation can be particularly helpful in child custody cases because it encourages parties to communicate with each other, which will undoubtedly be useful as they continue to raise their child after the court case has been resolved. In Chicago, the Cook County Circuit Court requires parties in a contested custody case to go to mediation before scheduling hearings or a trial on the issue.
Parties can meet with the mediator by themselves or they can bring their respective attorneys. It is best to have an attorney with you during the mediation process so you can be fully advised of your legal rights while negotiating with the other party. If you do not bring an attorney to mediation, you may benefit from reviewing the terms of the proposed agreement with an attorney after mediation is complete. The attorney should go over the agreement with you and advise you about how the terms will affect you. Even if the mediator is an attorney, they are not your attorney and they are not looking out solely for you. Their job is to help you and the other spouse reach an agreement. Your attorney should carefully advise you of what you need to know about your case and will help you assess whether the agreement you reached in mediation is in your best interests.
Mediation may not be appropriate in certain situations. For mediation to be successful, the parties need to have somewhat equal bargaining power. If one party has physically or emotionally abused the other party, mediation is not recommended. Mediation may not work in this situation because the abused party may give in to the other party’s demands due to a fear that they will be abused again.
Mediation can be a great way for parties to resolve their family law case, and it has become more popular.