What Happens At Mediation?

Dramatic courtroom showdowns are a staple of many movies and TV shows for much the same reason that millions of viewers watch Game 7 of the World Series: many of us are riveted by the high stakes, winner-take-all atmosphere. While a divorce trial certainly has those elements, when your money and your future hang in the balance, and intimate details about your family become public record, a trial may lose this appeal.

A trial may be beneficial in some cases, especially if there is the need for emotional closure or the parties are unable to agree on terms. But in most cases, mediation is an attractive option, provided that the right elements are present.

Preliminary Questions

In DuPage County, judges nearly always refer contested family law cases to a mediator, unless there is an “impediment” under the rules or the parties have already unsuccessfully attempted mediation in that particular case. Most other jurisdictions, including Will County, have similar rules. Only a select number of mediators are qualified to handle family law cases, because these matters have very specific legal, factual and financial implications that other civil cases do not have.

Parties can also voluntarily attempt mediation at any time; the mediator should always be a family law attorney who practices in the area.

Procedural Issues

Before the parties arrive, most mediators review the active pleadings to familiarize themselves with the issues and events in the case. Perhaps more importantly, such a review offers insight into the current routine in terms of custody, visitation, support and other items.

Most mediations take place in an office-type setting that has at least two conference areas. After the attorneys make brief opening statements, each party retires to a separate conference area, and the mediator conveys settlement offers back and forth. The separation often allows for an effective “cooling off” period that helps ensure decisions are made based on the facts, and not based on emotion.

The session typically lasts a full day. If a settlement is not reached, the mediator usually declares an impasse, although it is not unheard of for negotiations to resume again later, if the parties are close to an agreement.

Mediation is often a good alternative to a trial, but is not suitable for every situation. To learn more, or for a confidential consultation with an experienced Naperville family law attorney, contact our office. Convenient payment plans are available.


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