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Is Mediation Right For You?

Whether you are already involved in a divorce or child-related dispute, or whether you are thinking about filing a case, you should consider whether mediation is right for you and your family.  Mediation has the potential to work for most families; whether you are a financially sophisticated spouse or a spouse who has not managed the family’s finances, you may benefit from mediation.

Mediation is a dispute resolution process where a neutral third party mediator assists parties with resolving their disputes.  Although mediation is a voluntary process, the court can order parties to attend and participate in mediation. In fact, mediation of certain child-related issues is mandatory in most (if not all) counties in Illinois, including Cook County.

First, think about what issues you want to try and mediate; (1) child custody/decision making and parenting time; (2) financial issues; or (3) both.  Courts require parties to resolve their child related disputes first; therefore, many parties will mediate such issues first before turning to the financial issues.

Second, think about whether you want your attorney to attend mediation with you (if you have one).  Typically, both parties will either attend mediation with their attorneys, or both parties will attend without them.  Keep in mind that although some mediators are attorneys, they cannot give you any legal advice at the mediation.  Rather, they will assist both parties in determining their needs and interests and in reaching a resolution.  Regardless of whether your attorney participates in mediation with you, he or she should prepare with you in advance, answer all of your questions, and support you throughout the mediation process.

Third, think about what you need to know before you can attend mediation.  The mediation will be much more successful if both parties show up prepared, not only with their positions, but also with any information or documents the other party may require such as current bank account statements, paystubs, tax returns, etc.   Keep in mind that neither party can, or should, agree to a settlement without being fully informed.

Finally, think about whether you can follow through and live with the agreement reached before you agree and leave the mediation.  Don’t agree to something because you feel like you are being forced or bullied to agree by the other party.  This may cause you to ultimately end up backing out of the agreement or regretting your decision, which does not help either party.  On the other hand, don’t refuse to agree to something without really thinking about and hopefully explaining why you can’t agree.  This will help both parties understand each other’s positions and will hopefully allow you to negotiate a successful agreement.

Although mediation has the potential to work for most families, it may not necessarily be a good fit for your family, depending on your situation.  If your situation allows you to at least come to the table and discuss your family’s needs and interests, you should consider mediation as an option.

Kathryn A. McMahon is an associate with Katz & Stefani. 

Katz & Stefani

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