While every divorce case is unique, many divorcing couples take similar steps through the difficult dissolution process. In Metro East, IL, divorce mediation has become the preferred method for handling a divorce. The process offers several distinct benefits to any couple that is willing to sit down at the negotiation table.

However, while divorce mediation offers tremendous benefits, it can also be a challenging process. You should approach divorce mediation cautiously, know the elements of the process, and have an idea of what you can expect from your own divorce mediation proceedings.

How Does Divorce Mediation Work?

During divorce litigation, the proceedings unfold in a courtroom. The case will progress much like any other civil case, with both spouses having the ability to testify, call witnesses, and present evidence. Both attorneys will also have the chance for cross-examination to formally address evidence or testimony already given. Ultimately, the litigation process can easily last for months or even years, depending on the complexity of the case.

On the other hand, mediation allows divorcing couples to meet privately under the guidance of a neutral mediator and negotiate the terms of the divorce. This method keeps negotiations confidential, whereas litigation would entail entering everything said in the courtroom into the public record. If you prefer to keep your negotiations private, divorce mediation is the best option for you.

The mediator presiding over your divorce mediation process is typically an experienced family law attorney with no conflicts of interest favoring either you or your spouse. The mediator’s job is to facilitate constructive discussions and guide you and your former partner toward a mutually agreeable divorce.

Do You Need an Attorney for Divorce Mediation?

Some people mistakenly assume that mediation allows them to circumvent the need to hire attorneys for their divorce cases. While it is true that divorce mediation can certainly help anyone save a significant amount of money on legal fees, it is still wise to hire an experienced Metro East, IL divorce lawyer to represent you.

The mediator at the center of your mediation sessions cannot provide legal advice to you or your spouse. While they can clarify legal statutes, they cannot make recommendations that would suit either of your interests. Having an attorney on your side ensures you have professional support aligned with your best interests. You can choose to have your attorney present at some or all of your mediation sessions.

Remember that while divorce mediation is typically more streamlined than litigation, you may still encounter difficult issues that will require in-depth, professional legal analysis. For example, if you and your spouse are very wealthy and own complex assets, an attorney can coordinate with forensic accountants and other economic professionals. The measure will help you determine the fairest possible division of assets under Illinois state law.

What Can You Negotiate in Divorce Mediation?

During any divorce case, the divorcing spouses must settle several important issues and formulate a divorce decree. When you take advantage of divorce mediation, you can discuss issues like property division and alimony outside the eyes of the court. However, you cannot settle every aspect of your divorce privately.

The main draw of divorce mediation is the ability to negotiate property division privately and achieve a more personalized property division settlement than you could have secured through litigation. Illinois’ equitable distribution law means that when a couple divorces in litigation, the court determines the fairest and most equitable property division. However, the division may not necessarily be equal. In some cases, the court may require the liquidation of certain assets to divide the proceeds between the two spouses.

When you choose divorce mediation, you and your spouse can negotiate the terms of property division more freely. Instead of selling off assets, you and your spouse can negotiate “trades” until you are both satisfied with your individual assets. This generally leads to more financial stability than the court’s decision would allow.

Child custody and child support require court approval, so you should not expect to reach any firm conclusions about this aspect of your divorce during mediation. You and your spouse can certainly work with your respective attorneys to negotiate a parenting plan and proposal for custody and support during mediation. However, you must submit your proposed terms to an Illinois family court judge for final review and approval.

First Steps Before Divorce Mediation

Now that you have a better idea of what to expect from the mediation process, there are a few essential steps you should take to ensure the best possible outcome:

  • Take time to gather important documents, such as tax statements, pay stubs, expense records, and any other financial documentation that is likely to affect your mediation sessions. If you own separate property, be sure to gather the documentation that establishes your ownership rights. This action will help ensure you retain legal ownership of your separate property.
  • Locate a trustworthy and experienced Metro East, IL divorce attorney to represent you. The mediator does not have the ability to offer you legal advice or make suggestions for your advantage. Therefore, it is vital to have legal representation as you navigate the divorce mediation process.
  • Do your best to facilitate constructive communication between you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse. Divorce can be a very emotionally charged matter, but taking time to separate your personal feelings from practical responsibilities will serve you well in the long run.
  • Locate a mediator with a strong record. Many divorce attorneys throughout the Metro East, IL area offer their services as legal counsel during mediation, but some also act as mediators. You must choose a mediator who does not pose any conflict of interest issues with you or your spouse.

Divorce mediation provides you the opportunity to navigate your divorce more quickly and with greater control over the outcome. Although some divorce cases may still require litigation, such as a high-net-worth divorce, it is still worth exploring mediation. At the very least, you may be able to negotiate whatever terms you can before proceeding with litigation. An experienced Metro East, IL divorce attorney is your best available resource if you are unsure whether mediation is the right option for you.