Mediation has quickly become the most popular form of alternative dispute resolution for divorce in the United States due to the many benefits this method offers when resolving complex divorce cases. However, divorce laws vary from state to state. While a couple divorcing in Illinois will have the opportunity to voluntarily enter divorce mediation, mediation is a mandatory step in the dissolution process in some Illinois counties.

If you intend to end your marriage in the near future, it’s vital to know your county family court’s position on mandatory mediation. If you divorce in a county that requires mandatory divorce mediation, you must know how to prepare for this step of your divorce and what happens once you complete mediation. It’s also essential to know what happens if mediation doesn’t work or if there is a legal impediment to mediation in your divorce case.

Mandatory Mediation in Illinois Family Court

The family courts in several Illinois counties uphold mandatory mediation statutes to encourage divorcing couples to resolve as many of the details involved in their divorces on their own as possible before the court intervenes. This minimizes court resources required for each divorce and generally provides divorcing couples more control over their proceedings.

Every circuit court in Illinois upholds mandatory mediation statutes regarding child custody and visitation. Divorcing parents are expected to negotiate parenting plans in mediation. Once they have devised these agreements, the court will approve their mediated parenting plans, sometimes with adjustments to suit the court’s interpretations of the best interests of the children involved.

Each local court system has different rules about:

  • The mandatory minimum number of mediation sessions required in a divorce case.
  • The minimum time required for each mediation session.
  • The handling of impediments and exceptions to mediation, such as domestic violence.
  • Confidentiality provisions.
  • Fees required for mediation, if applicable.
  • The choosing or assigning of mediators.

Some Illinois counties will appoint mediators to divorce cases, and the divorcing spouses will not need to pay any fees for their mediation sessions. In others, the courts compel divorcing couples to choose their own mediators and pay those mediators’ fees. If the court requires a divorcing couple to choose their own mediator and pay the mediator’s fee, it’s likely the court will also assign payment obligations to each spouse, respectively. If the divorcing spouses cannot afford mediation out of pocket, the courts in these counties may appoint mediators and waive the mediation fees.

In most Illinois divorce cases, mediation is mandatory, and a divorcing couple must set a preliminary case management conference with their mediator within 90 days of the initial divorce petition filing. If the divorcing parents have not reached an agreement concerning their parenting plan at the time of this conference, the court will schedule further mediation for the couple.

When Is Mediation Not Mandatory?

The various circuit courts of Illinois will review each divorce case to determine if any impediments or exceptions to the mandatory mediation laws exist, such as the existence of any history of domestic violence or one spouse’s lack of mental capacity to handle mediation. In these situations, the divorce case will likely proceed to litigation, and the court will have the final say on every facet of the divorce.

Benefits of Mediation

Every divorcing spouse in Illinois should carefully weigh the potential benefits of divorce mediation. Most divorcing couples are willing to enter mediation privately, and some may even negotiate some of the terms of their divorces before filing their initial divorce petition. Whether your divorce entails compulsory mediation under county laws or if you decide to pursue private mediation, the benefits of this form of alternative dispute resolution are undeniable. Mediation allows divorcing spouses to keep their proceedings more private than litigation typically allows, saves time and money, and generally offers more personalized results than litigation.

When a couple reaches a divorce agreement through mediation, there is a much greater chance of compliance with the terms of the mediation order compared to the compliance rate for litigation. Ultimately, divorce mediation can save a tremendous amount of time, money, and stress for both spouses and provide them with more agreeable results in their divorce cases than they could expect through litigation.

If you plan to divorce in Illinois, an experienced Illinois divorce attorney is your best asset in determining how to best approach your divorce case. Your attorney can help you understand what to expect when it comes to your county’s laws for mandatory mediation and help you get the most out of the process as they represent you through every mediation session.