What can I expect at a divorce mediation?
Divorce mediation is a process during which a divorcing couple meets with a specially trained, neutral third-party to discuss and resolve divorce-related issues. Mediation has many benefits. Mediation tends to be less stressful, cheaper, and shorter than a divorce trial. Mediation gives couples the final say over their divorce matters, enabling them to maintain power and control in their divorce. Additionally, mediating partners can develop their communication skills, which especially benefits parents who will need to continue making joint decisions about their children long after their divorce.
You may voluntarily initiate mediation at any stage of your case, even before filing for divorce. The mediation process begins when you and your spouse agree to use this alternative dispute resolution method and choose your mediator. No court appearances are necessary for either party during the mediation process.
Mediators are trained in conflict resolution, have extensive knowledge of Illinois divorce laws, and facilitate meaningful conversations between you and your spouse. Mediators may make suggestions to help you resolve any problems, but they cannot make decisions for you or force either spouse to accept a term or contract. Importantly, a mediator’s work cannot substitute for the services of a qualified attorney. Both you and your spouse should obtain independent legal independent advice throughout the divorce process, including during mediation.
By the end of mediation, couples tend to agree on all issues. If you and your partner agree on all but a few points, you can prepare an agreement for all of the settled issues and either litigate the remaining issues or return to mediation after taking time off.
You and your spouse are most likely to succeed in mediation if you agree to divorce, you have no history of domestic violence, you are transparent about finances, and you agree on custody terms. Spouses who agree about divorce tend to negotiate better to resolve any issues in mediation. Some mediators will not take cases involving a history of domestic abuse due to the challenges of determining whether the victim agrees to the settlement because of genuine satisfaction or intimidation from the abuser. Both spouses must be willing to provide each other and the mediator with sensitive financial information in order to smoothly reach an equitable property settlement. Finally, co-parents can negotiate the most favorable child custody settlement via the mediation process because they know what is best for their children.
What are the five stages of divorce mediation?
Most mediations go through a series of five stages. The stages do not always follow the same order, and you may repeat some stages at various points during the mediation. While each mediation is unique, all mediations tend to follow these basic stages.
The introductory stage is foundational to mediation. You and your spouse give the mediator background information about your situation. You have the opportunity to explain your expectations for property division, child custody, visitation, child support, and spousal support. This initial discussion will help the mediator understand the extent to which you and your spouse’s expectations differ and which areas need the most help. The mediator then explains how the mediation will be conducted and suggests an approach to optimize your chances of reaching an agreement based on your strength of communication and points of contention. These points of disagreement serve as the basis for your agenda for the rest of the mediation.
Successful mediations require all parties to be fully informed about the facts of their case. During the information-gathering stage, spouses gather all relevant financial data and the opinions of accountants or appraisers, if necessary. The mediator will help you find ways to acquire unavailable or disputed information. For example, if you cannot locate your copy of a life insurance policy, your mediator may suggest that you contact your insurance broker. The mediator may discuss the general legal rules that apply to your case, including state laws regarding asset division, child custody, spousal support, and tax issues.
This general legal information will help you decide how to approach legal issues in your divorce. This stage can take two or more sessions, especially if you need to do outside work to obtain additional information or appraisals. Though you may feel tempted to rush through this stage, a comprehensive picture of your financial information is necessary for a satisfying legally binding agreement.
During the framing stage, the mediator helps both partners outline their reasons for wanting specific outcomes in the settlement. Spouses examine property division, child custody, child support, and alimony in relation to their needs and interests. This focus reflects the core goal of mediation: the creation of a resolution that successfully addresses each spouse’s most important needs. Spouses’ interests often overlap, especially those regarding their children.
Overlapping interests increase the likelihood of reaching a settlement that addresses common concerns. Partners inevitably must compromise on some interests, though resulting compromises are often acceptable to both spouses. The mediator may conduct separate sessions for each spouse if doing so will better prepare you for the negotiating stage. Some mediators prefer to conduct a joint session to show that both spouses are working to reach an equitable settlement.
Negotiating begins once the mediator has helped both spouses frame their interests. Spouses explore and narrow down possible settlement options to those that are most mutually beneficial. Reaching the final combination of options will require compromises and concessions on both sides. Your mediator will focus your attention on finding settlement options that address each partner’s needs as fully as possible.
Once both spouses agree on all outstanding issues, you enter the concluding stage. The mediator will prepare a memorandum outlining your settlement terms. The memorandum can then be given to the attorneys to prepare a formal settlement agreement that will be presented to the court as part of an uncontested divorce case.
How much does it cost to mediate a divorce?
Mediation has multiple benefits, one of which is that in many cases it costs less than a traditional divorce. The ultimate cost of mediation depends on the complexity of the issues, the degree of contention between the partners, and other variables. Successful mediation cases can often be concluded in only two to four two-hour sessions spread over one or two months, though complex cases can require more time to complete. Generally, mediation saves couples thousands of dollars associated with court litigation. Additionally, mediation tends to greatly reduce the emotional cost of divorce by facilitating the process in a respectful manner.
Who pays for mediation costs?
In most cases, spouses either split mediation fees equally or proportionally to income levels. One party may pay the entire cost as part of the divorce settlement, though this outcome is rarer. Illinois requires mediation in circuit court cases involving child custody. In these cases, Cook County courts will cover the cost of mediation, while other counties will either divide the fees between the parties or order the mediator to perform pro bono work.
Is divorce mediation binding?
Generally, mediation is not binding. However, under some circumstances, the written acceptance of the terms can result in a binding agreement. It is recommended that all mediation agreements be reviewed by your attorney before making them enforceable. It is often prudent to have mediation agreements treated like other divorce agreements, binding only after approval by a judge.
Work with an experienced divorce mediator
Every divorce case is unique. Discuss your case with me, a qualified Chicago divorce attorney, to determine whether divorce mediation is right for you. During your consultation, you will receive valuable guidance through the divorce process to help your divorce result in a win-win settlement.
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