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What is Mediation and How it Helps the Parents in Child Custody Disputes?

When I say custody battle, I’m talking about a battle over where the children are going to reside. In Illinois, if Mother says, “I want the children to reside with me,” and Dad says, “I want the children to reside with me,” one of the first things that happens is that the parties are sent off to mediation. In Cook County, mediation is usually provided through the county. In the outlying suburbs and in other counties, it’s generally done by private attorneys who are provided by the court.

Now, one thing about mediation is that the courts will generally send the parties off to mediation immediately, before dealing with any other issues. In mediation, all they parties do is they deal with custody and visitation issues. Generally, in Cook County, mediation is free, while in and the outlining counties, you pay the attorney to do that. The mediation is confidential, which means that the only thing that the mediator can come back and report to the court is that whether or not the parties reached an agreement.

Some people come in and say, “Why should I try to reach an agreement?” I try to tell people that mediation is generally successful. When I say successful, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll reach an agreement on everything. If a person walks in with ten issues on the agenda, I try to tell people that if they reach an agreement on seven of those issues, I still consider it successful, because there are less issues that you’re going to have to litigate. A lot of times, those remaining issues are not the issues that are going make or break the case. Often, the attorneys can sit down with the judge and hammer out an agreement for these issues pre-trial.

Mediation, I would say, is probably is about 75% successful. In other words, people generally tend to reach an agreement on the majority of the issues that are really facing them regarding the custody and visitation of their children.

Now, some people come in e very angry and they say, “Well, I don’t want to talk to this person,” or “I don’t think that they’re going to talk with me,” or, “I don’t think it’s going to be successful, and why should I do this?” I try to explain to people that this is the last time they’re going to be able to do it on the cheap. It’s also the last time that they’re going to have control over the issue of the custody and visitation of their children.

One of the toughest things about a divorce is that it’s like a big black hole. People have all these issues, all these problems, and it’s scary because, number one, they don’t know what’s going to happen to them and, number two, they’re surrendering control over what’s going to happen to them and to their children to attorneys and judges. With regard to the mediation, if a person comes in and says, “Well, I don’t want to do the mediation,” or “I don’t want to talk to him or her. I don’t want to cooperate, ” I try to tell people, “Look, you’ve got to understand that unless you go to mediation, unless you reach an agreement, this is one of the last times that you’re going to truly exercise control over what’s going to happen to you and your children. If you can’t, you’re surrendering those decisions to two attorneys, possibly three, and to a judge who will stand up in front of a court, in front of a room full of people, and talk about you and your children sometimes as if you don’t even exist.

After that whole process is done, both you and your spouse may find out that the decisions made by the attorneys and the judges make neither one of you happy.

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