Family law mediation is a process in which a neutral third party helps facilitate an agreement between parties, usually regarding parenting issues or divorce terms. The mediator does not serve as an advocate for either side, and doesn't impose decisions upon the parties. Here are 3 things to know about family law mediation:
1. The main purpose of mediation is to keep the decision-making and control within the parties' hands, rather than leaving such important issues up to a judge. "I act solely as a mediator during the process rather than a lawyer," explained family law attorney Erin Webster O'Brien. "I help guide the parties through the issues, and ensure both sides are heard in a respectful and non-adversarial manner. Mediation is helpful because once each person has the ability to address all concerns, they can make decisions together that will work best for their family without a judge dictating the terms."
2. The Will County Circuit Court mandates mediation when dealing with any pre-decree or post-decree contested child-related issues, unless the judge finds an impediment to mediation, such as domestic violence, drug use, or mental illness. "Mediators are assigned to parentage and divorce cases when parties cannot agree upon parenting time, decision-making, and other child-related issues," added O'Brien.
3. While some mediations are court ordered, others are voluntary. According to O’Brien, “Some parties request mediation pursuant to the provisions of a previously entered parenting agreement which require mediation in the event of a disagreement. Others request mediation for issues such as dividing marital property and debts, setting child support, and setting spousal maintenance. Financial mediation is becoming more common, as parties want to resolve the issues in a simpler manner in order to prevent litigation and the costs associated with it.”
Once an agreement is reached, the mediator documents the terms and shares them with the parties and any attorneys, if applicable. The terms become legally enforceable once the documents are entered into a court order and signed by a judge.
O'Brien earned a Professional Certification in Divorce Mediation Skills Training from the School of Continuing Studies at Northwestern University in 2008. For more information, please contact:
Erin Webster O'Brien, Attorney
President, Will County Bar Association