In Illinois, when the parties have children, they must each file with the court a proposed parenting plan. That is a detailed document outlining what responsibilities and time each parent will have with the children. If the parenting plans are not identical or agreed upon, “The court shall order mediation to assist the parents in formulating or modifying a parenting plan or in
Implementing a parenting plan unless the court determines that impediments to mediation exist. Costs under this subsection shall be allocated between the parties pursuant to the applicable statute or Supreme Court Rule. 750 ILCS 5/602.10(c)
The Cook County Court Rules further require mediation. “Parties and their representatives are required to attend mediation sessions, but are not compelled to reach an agreement.” Cook County Court Rule 13.4(e)(i)(a)
“For the following categories of contested issues, mediation is mandatory unless an impediment to mediation exists: (1) initial determinations of allocation of parental responsibilities; (2) modification of allocation of parental responsibilities; (3) relocation of the child; 4) non-parent visitation and third party allocation of parental responsibilities.” Cook County Court Rule 13.4(e)(ii)(b)
Mandatory mediation is not required if there has been “past or present family violence or abuse, mental or cognitive impairment, alcohol abuse, or chemical dependency. Family violence or abuse includes harassment, intimidation, and interference with personal liberty.” Cook County Court Rule 13.4(e)(i)(b)(3)
There are kinds of mediation that are not mandatory and can be requested by a party, an attorney, a guardian ad litem or by the court on it’s own motion. The court may order mediation for debt, money, and other property-related disputes that arise in a child custody case. The Circuit Court also has the authority to require you to attend a “reconciliation conference” if it believes that there is a chance you could reconcile, a “conciliation conference” to assist in improving parental communication skills and potential referral to community resources, or an “emergency mediation” if the Court believes your child is in “imminent danger” as a result of the discord between you. The main goal of a mediation system is to provide a cheaper though equally fair alternative to usual litigation in resolving child custody disputes.
The cost of the mediation “shall be borne by the parties and may be assessed by the court as it deems equitable without prejudice and are subject to reallocation at the conclusion of the case.” 750 ILCS 5/501(e). Basically, the court will determine who will pay for mediation now based on what seems fair but those amounts may get changed at the end of the case.
In my experience, mediation can often be a blessing in disguise for about half of all cases. Mediation can provide a sounding board for an aggrieved party that lets them finally come to a conclusion regarding the painful emotional realities of divorce. Mediation, when done successfully, is far cheaper than formal divorce litigation.
Unfortunately, it’s often common that mediation is completely unsuccessful and doesn’t resolve any issues. In these cases, there is no further option beyond formal divorce litigation. Your lawyer should be preparing for litigation while mediation is ongoing (which often takes months) in case the mediation fails.