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What Is a Mediator in Divorce?

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Divorce can be an overwhelming and distressing experience, but it doesn’t have to be a combative one. Divorce mediation offers couples a more collaborative, cost-effective, and time-saving alternative to traditional litigation. Mediation is a specific type of negotiation that is facilitated by a mediator. What is a mediator in divorce? A neutral third party who facilitates constructive dialogue and helps craft a mutually acceptable agreement, so couples can navigate the divorce process with less animosity and more control over their futures. In exploring the role of divorce mediators, the mediation process for divorcing couples, and the advantages of mediation over litigation, you can learn how to prepare for mediation and maximize the benefit of mediation to its fullest potential.

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Deciphering the Role of a Divorce Mediator

Divorce mediation is when a neutral third party helps couples reach a mutually acceptable agreement for their outstanding issues, including permanent terms and temporary terms. This alternative dispute resolution method allows couples to have more control over their divorce process, as opposed to being at the mercy of the court system. The mediator’s role is to facilitate communication between the spouses, help them find common ground, and guide them towards a resolution.

Mediation commonly occurs in different formats. Mediation often comes in the format of three one-hour sessions, such as in Winnebago County, Illinois. Divorce mediation in Cook County, Illinois, is streamlined pursuant to local rule, making the divorce mediation process more uniform. Mediation can occur as part of a government sponsored or private service.

Who pays for mediation in divorce? The judge will decide who pays for mediation when the mediator is appointed by court order in divorce cases. Often, the parties are required to equally split the costs of mediation, and there are also options available when either or both parties are unable to pay for the cost of mediation. The judge may require one party to pay for 100% of the mediation fees, if the other party qualifies for a waiver of fees. Mediation is paid between the parties based on whatever agreement the parties decide, when mediation is voluntary done and not mandated by the court.

Divorce mediators are usually lawyers that are experienced in family law. However, mediators are not required to be attorneys, as counselors or other professionals can also assist with mediation for divorcing couples. In any event, the mediator needs to be an authority on the issues being mediated. If the mediator does not have a firm grasp on the topics being mediated, the integrity of the mediation process will be affected and mediation will be less likely to succeed.

With the right mediator and a willingness to collaborate, couples can save time, money, and emotional stress by opting for divorce mediation in Illinois instead of spending significant money on a divorce attorney for traditional litigation. Divorce in Illinois can be a challenging process, but mediation may allow an amicable solution for both parties.

Mediation comes in all different shapes and sizes. Many mediators take a comprehensive approach, while other mediators take more of a shorthand approach. Mediation mainly applies to child related issues, in which case the mediator essentially has a mental map of the parenting plan and causally inquires with both parties to obtain the answers or information necessary to complete the parenting plan document. If the mediation is meant to address financial issues, that needs to be specifically stated in the agreement or order for divorce mediation. Some jurisdictions, such as Winnebago County, Illinois, require the parties to complete a parenting class before participating in mediation.

The Mediator’s Neutral Stance

Neutrality is an important tool for a divorce mediator, as it enables them to remain impartial and unbiased. This neutrality is meant to foster a secure and impartial environment for both parties to express their needs and concerns without feeling judged or at a disadvantage. A mediator balances fairness by:

Maintaining neutrality allows the mediator to guide the couple effectively towards mutually beneficial compromises and a fair resolution. On occasion, it may feel like your mediator is not neutral but taking the side of the other party. This is especially common in circumstances where the other party is dishonest or manipulative or if the mediator is not sensitive to power and control issues that can afflict certain relationships.
This is part of why you need to take steps to ensure emotional readiness. One important aspect of mediation is to make sure you and the other party are working with the same timeframe. You may think that you finally reached an agreement on a permanent basis, while you ex might be thinking that they are only agreeing on a temporary basis.

Mediation is frequently ordered by the courts in divorce cases, and mediation is even sometimes ordered in cases where mediation is inappropriate. Mediation is not appropriate when there is an Order of Protection between the parties, if there is power imbalance between the parties, if the case involves domestic violence, or if there is another compelling reason that there is not an even playing field between the parties.

Facilitating Constructive Dialogue

Divorce mediators employ various techniques to facilitate constructive dialogue, such as active listening, reframing, and brainstorming. These techniques help create a communicative environment that fosters understanding, empathy, and cooperation between the parties involved. Guiding the discussion and fostering open, respectful communication enables mediators to assist couples in addressing their issues and engaging in problem-solving.

Many mediators will provide a blank Parenting Plan to each party or even fill out a Parenting Plan with agreed terms as the mediation progresses between the parties. This approach can lead to more effective negotiation and resolution of disputes, ultimately resulting in a mutually satisfactory outcome for both parties.

Crafting the Path to Agreement

Once a couple reaches consensus on their divorce issues, the mediator assists in formulating a written agreement that reflects their understanding. This Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA) outlines the terms both parties have mutually consented to, encompassing matters such as asset division, support payments, and other financial issues.

Before signing the MSA, it is advisable for both parties to consult with their respective attorneys to ensure that their rights and interests are protected. This final agreement becomes legally binding once approved by the court, giving both parties a clear financial roadmap for their post-divorce lives.

In a similar fashion, the mediator may assist in the formation of the Parenting Plan Agreement of the parties upon the successful completion of the mediation process. This is where the decision making authority will be outlined, the visitation schedule would be addressed, the pick-up and drop-off times, the allocation of holidays, and the right of first refusal. The Parenting Plan Agreement is sometimes referred to as the custody agreement, and it memorializes the prenatal rights of the parties and their agreed arrangements for the co-parenting of their child or children.

The Mediation Process: A Step-by-Step Guide

The divorce mediation process consists of three main stages: initial consultation and preparation, the mediation sessions themselves, and finalizing the agreement. Throughout these stages, the mediator guides the couple in discussing their issues, resolving disputes, and crafting a fair and mutually acceptable settlement.

Following a structured process and engaging in open dialogue allows couples to navigate their divorce proceedings with potentially minimal acrimony, fostering a greater sense of control over their future, and avoiding potential future conflict situations.

Initial Consultation and Preparation

During the initial consultation and preparation stage, couples gather pertinent information and establish goals for their divorce mediation. This stage typically involves:

Adequate preparation and clear objectives can provide the participants with a solid foundation to enter the mediation process, facilitating effective negotiation and problem-solving.

Conducting Mediation Sessions

Mediation is a setting where the two parties can hash out an agreement or a partial agreement with the assistance of a person trained to facilitate this type of negotiation. Mediation is a specific type of negotiation, which usually does not have the lawyers of the parties being present. Mediation may occur in person, by video or phone, or by a combination thereof. Zoom mediation in divorce cases is becoming more common among divorce mediators.  

Mediation sessions involve open discussions, negotiation, and problem-solving, with the mediator guiding the process and aiming for both parties to be heard equally. During these sessions, the mediator employs various techniques to manage high-conflict discussions, such as the crafting of creative proposals, undertaking reality testing, and conducting caucuses.

Staying focused on the issues, remaining open to compromise, and engaging in constructive dialogue helps couples to collaborate towards a mutually satisfactory resolution.

Finalizing the Mediation Agreement

Once the couple has resolved their disputes through mediation, the mediator drafts a legal document that reflects their decisions. This agreement, typically referred to as the Memorandum of Understanding, outlines the terms both parties have agreed upon in mediation. The Memorandum of Understanding is typically utilized by the attorneys to craft the longform documents that result, specifically the Parenting Plan agreement or even the Marital Settlement Agreement. Some mediators will take the Memorandum of Understanding and actually prepare these resulting documents.

The final agreements, crafted with the help of a family law attorney, provide a clear roadmap for the couple’s post-divorce life and can be enforced by the court if necessary. Before signing anything that arises from mediation, it is essential to consult with your attorney to ensure your rights and interests are protected.

Key Advantages of Choosing Mediation Over Litigation

Opting for mediation over litigation offers several advantages, including cost efficiency, time savings, and privacy. Mediation is generally less expensive than litigation due to lower legal fees and court costs, and its streamlined process allows for quicker resolution of disputes. Additionally, mediation sessions are meant to be confidential, which can be particularly beneficial for couples who wish to avoid the public scrutiny that comes with traditional divorce litigation. Choosing mediation allows parties to choose their own destiny, rather than having a judge who does not know the family making life changing decisions about the family. You should be involved in deciding the outcome of the arrangements that are best for your children, because you know more about your children than anyone.

Choosing mediation also empowers couples to maintain greater control over their divorce process and collaborate towards a fair and mutually acceptable resolution. If the

Cost Efficiency of Divorce Mediation

One of the primary advantages of divorce mediation is its cost efficiency. Divorce mediation cost is typically lower compared to litigation, as it eliminates the need for lengthy court proceedings and reduces attorney fees. Additionally, mediation is often more time-efficient than litigation, allowing couples to settle their issues more quickly and save money in the process.

Opting for mediation instead of litigation allows couples to achieve a more cost-effective resolution to their divorce.

Time-Saving Aspects of Mediation

Mediation offers a more efficient and streamlined approach compared to traditional litigation, helping to avoid lengthy court proceedings and reducing the amount of time needed to resolve disputes. On average, a divorce mediation process can take anywhere from several weeks to several months, whereas a litigated divorce can take five weeks to five years to complete.

Choosing mediation enables couples to save time and minimize the emotional strain linked with drawn-out legal battles. For this reason, you want to be sure that you and your ex are operating on the same time frame. You may agree to something that you think means the case is over and that you reached a permanent agreement, while the other party might be thinking that the agreement is temporary and only intend to use it as stepping stone towards a more expansive arrangement.

Maintaining Privacy and Confidentiality

Privacy and confidentiality are additional advantages of mediation over litigation. Mediation is designed to be conducted in a confidential setting, allowing couples to discuss sensitive matters without fear of public exposure. In contrast, court records from litigation are public, potentially subjecting the couple to unwanted scrutiny. Further, the parties are free to be open about their wishes, desires, and the bottom line on which they are willing to settle. The notion is that the discussions that occur in mediation are not supposed to be used against the parties later, so as to foster an open dialogue.

Opting for mediation allows couples to keep their personal matters private and maintain greater control over their divorce process.

When Is a Mediator Necessary in Divorce?

Although some couples may be able to resolve their divorce issues through informal negotiations, there are various situations in which a mediator may be necessary or beneficial. Mediation is a more formal process than self-assisted agreements that occur out of court, however, the mediation process is not as formal as the litigation process. Divorce mediation appears in various contexts, including cases of either voluntary or mandatory mediation.

Voluntary vs. Mandatory Mediation

Some couples choose to participate in mediation voluntarily, while others may be required to do so by the court. In voluntary mediation, both parties agree to work together with the help of a mediator to resolve their disputes. In contrast, mandatory mediation is ordered by a judge when the parties are unable to reach an agreement on their own.

Mediation is usually mandatory in the State of Illinois, and the general rule is that all parties that have contested or unresolved issues of custody or parenting time are required to participate in mediation. The vast majority of divorce mediation is mandatory, which means that you may not have the opportunity to provide input in deciding which person will be designated as the mediator. Remember that even mandatory mediation is not a mandate to reach an agreement, it is an opportunity to reach an agreement.

Regardless of whether mediation is voluntary or mandatory, the process offers numerous benefits, including cost savings, time efficiency, and the opportunity for more personalized solutions.

Divorce mediators can be particularly helpful in navigating child-related issues, such as child custody, child support, and visitation arrangements. By facilitating open communication and cooperation between the divorcing parents, mediators can help facilitate a setting where the best interests of the children are prioritized throughout the divorce process.

Mediation also allows parents to create customized solutions that better meet the needs of their children, compared to court-imposed solutions. One of the benefits of a well-crafted parenting plan is its ability to adapt to the unique circumstances of each family.

Handling Complex Marital Assets and Property Division

Couples with complex marital assets and property, especially divorcing spouses with businesses or large portfolios, may also benefit from working with a divorce mediator. A mediator can help navigate the intricacies of asset division, and help ensure that both parties receive a fair share of the marital property. A mediator’s expertise in family law and financial matters can be invaluable in reaching an equitable and mutually satisfactory resolution, particularly in cases involving high net worth individuals or intricate financial situations.

Selecting the Right Divorce Mediator

Choosing the right divorce mediator is an important step to ensuring the success of the mediation process. The ideal mediator should possess relevant qualifications, experience, and compatibility with both parties. Careful consideration of these factors can increase the likelihood of a positive and effective mediation experience, leading to a fair and mutually acceptable resolution. However, you should note that you may not get to pick the mediator if the mediation is mandated by the court or ordered by the judge.

Qualifications and Experience

When selecting a divorce mediator, consider their qualifications and experience. Look for a mediator who has completed specialized training in family and divorce mediation and with a background in family law.

Additionally, a proven track record of successful mediation cases is a strong indicator of a mediator’s ability to help couples navigate the divorce process effectively.

Compatibility with Both Parties

Ensuring that the mediator is a good fit for both parties can be an important step in fostering open communication and trust. A mediator should be approachable, empathetic, and able to connect with both parties on a certain level.

By selecting a mediator who is compatible with both parties, couples can create a more conducive environment for open dialogue and effective problem-solving during the mediation process.

How to Prepare for Divorce Mediation

Proper preparation is important for a successful divorce mediation experience. This includes organizing your thoughts and your documents, establishing clear goals and priorities, and considering your emotional readiness and support.

Taking time to prepare allows you to enter the mediation process with a solid foundation, facilitating effective negotiation and problem-solving.

Organizing Financial Statements and Documents

Gathering all relevant financial statements and documents is a necessary step in preparing for the financial component of divorce mediation. This information allows for both parties and the mediator to have a clear understanding of their financial situation, which is essential for making informed decisions about asset division, support payments, and other financial matters.

Accurate and transparent financial statements also help ensure a fair and equitable resolution in the mediation process and prevents future surprises.

Establishing Clear Goals and Priorities

Before entering mediation, it’s important to establish clear goals and priorities for the divorce process. This may include determining what is most important to you in terms of child custody, visitation, decision-making, and financials, if applicable. By setting clear objectives and communicating them to the mediator and your spouse, you can help guide the discussions and negotiations during mediation and ensure that your needs are addressed.

You should prepare three lists before you begin the process of mediation. The first list should have the objectives that you know you are unwilling to budge on. The second list should have all the components that you know you are willing to negotiate. The third list should be your considered your maybe list. You then need to stick to the script, especially for your first and second lists. You also should fill out a proposed parenting plan and proposed property allocation, if applicable, before you go into mediation. That way, you have already familiarized yourself with the nature of the topics that will be addressed in mediation.

Emotional Readiness and Support

Ensuring emotional support is in place is part of managing the mental strain of divorce mediation. This support can come from friends, family, or professional counselors who can offer empathy, advice, and a listening ear during the process.

Having a strong legal support system in place can help you focus on the objective of reaching a reasonable and mutually satisfactory resolution, rather than becoming entangled in past resentments or conflicts.

You should hope for the best in mediation, but plan for the worst. If you have an aggressive ex, you should brace yourself for your ex to use mediation as a platform to verbally attack you, lie about you, and to try to make you look bad. You should find some serenity in the fact that the mediator has no decision making authority without your approval and agreement.

You are not required to reach an agreement in mediation. Even if you are required to attend mediation, reaching an agreement is optional. Also, know that you do not have to necessarily explain your reasoning in mediation. “No” is a complete sentence. “I am not comfortable with that” is a reasonable response, and “may have I have time to think about it” is a perfectly acceptable answer.


Divorce mediation offers a collaborative, cost-effective, and time-saving alternative to traditional litigation. By working with a skilled divorce mediator, couples can maintain greater control over their divorce process and work together to reach a fair and mutually acceptable resolution. From understanding the role of a mediator to choosing the right one and properly preparing for mediation. The proper guidance can provide you with valuable insights into the world of divorce mediation. Armed with knowledge, parties can confidently navigate the divorce process by maximizing mediation to build a brighter future for themselves and their children.

Consult with Divorce Attorney Zachary Townsend

Call or text today – (815) 200-8802

During your consultation, Attorney Townsend will go over the history of your legal matter, ascertain your goals, and help you develop a new path forward for you and your family.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why a mediator is important for divorce?

A mediator is important for divorce as it reduces stress, conflict and gives both parties more control over the outcome, because it is more predictable and less adversarial than going to court.

What are disadvantages of mediation?

Mediation has its disadvantages. The mediator is not the decision-maker, so it can be difficult for a decision to be made. Once a decision or agreement is made, it can be difficult to enforce the terms of an agreement if one or both parties do not comply and the terms have not been adopted or ordered by the court.

How long does divorce mediation take in Illinois?

Mediation can be completed within a few hours or may take several days depending on the complexity of the case. Sessions typically last one or two hours, though they may shortened or extended longer if needed.

What are the main advantages of divorce mediation over litigation?

Divorce mediation offers many advantages over litigation, such as greater control, cost efficiency, time savings, and the opportunity for increased privacy. Working with a skilled mediator enables couples to navigate these challenges more effectively and potentially reach a fair resolution that caters to the needs of both parties without having to resort to the stress of litigation.

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