August 15, 2010

Illinois Divorce Mediation

I receive calls and email every week from individuals about divorce mediation. These calls remind me that it is important for divorcing parents to understand what mediation is in Illinois, and how mediation fits into the divorce process in Illinois divorce courts. Mediation in Illinois can cover both the financial planning issues in divorce as well as the parenting issues. Illinois mandates that all divorcing parents with a custody dispute mediate these custody issues before they can litigate custody and visitation.

If you are required to mediate, what does mediation entail? Well, much depends on the parties and the mediator that is chosen. Among trained and experienced mediators, we recognize distinct styles of mediation: Facilitative, Evaluative and Transformative. When I am mediating a custody issue, I use a "Facilitative" approach with some elements from the Evaluative and Transformative models.

Facilitative: The mediator is helping the two parties make their decisions based on their individual definitions of fairness. I help the parties find common ground, and propose alternative parenting approaches. I can provide information and guidance but do not give recommendations or opinions. A divorce mediator in this model is helping the parties create a parenting plan that meets legal requirements, as well as that family's needs.

Evaluative: Strictly speaking the evaluative mediator plays a stronger role, making recommendations and giving opinions, pushing the parties to a decision. Some judges prefer the heavy handed mediators, as the cases are forcibly settled, but mediation by definition must allow the parties to create their own agreements without coercion. I use evaluative approaches only to provide nuanced guidance; no arms are twisted.

Transformative: This approach tries to improve the relationship between the parties, concentrating on communication and interactivity. When each parent has an understanding of the other parent's issues and goals, the parents can then come to agreements with greater success. I stress this transformative model, as many parents come to mediation with strong misunderstandings of the other parent's intentions, and a lot of distrust based on false assumptions.

I feel the goal of mediation is to guide the parties to a result that reflects their family system's needs and goals, while at the same time creates a plan that the parties can reasonably be expected to follow without difficulty, and a plan that meets the requirements of Illinois law.

Mediation is a challenging and involving process, but for the right parents in combination with an experienced mediator, the result can be beneficial for the family and save the parents a lot of money otherwise spent on stressful litigation.