Generally speaking, when there is an issue relative to the allocation of parental responsibilities and/or parenting time, the Courts in Illinois will first send the parties to mediation. Mediation is the process where the two litigants meet with a neutral third party, a trained mediator, to try and resolve their differences prior to having hearings before a Judge. The only time mediation is waived is when there is a significant hindrance or impairment In the parties’ ability to participate in mediation, such as an order of protection, for example. However, in some cases, parties with an order of protection between them can still mediate. Some mediators will put these parties in separate rooms and shuffle back and forth so that they can still participate in this process.
In Cook County, there is the offering of free mediation services through the county. The services are with trained mediators, and there is no cost to the parties. However, it is very, very popular and the dates book up plenty far in advance. It is not unusual for parties to have a mediation order entered and then for them to not have another court date for 3-4 months because of how far booked out Cook County Mediation Services can be. Some issues are time-sensitive, so county mediation may not be the best option in those scenarios.
There is also the possibility of the parties attending private mediation. Usually, a family law attorney or another individual who has completed mediation training can serve as a neutral third-party mediator, appointed by the Court. These individuals usually offer more flexibility in terms of scheduling and have appointments sooner than the county. The only issue with a private mediator is that they charge, and the two litigants generally have to share the costs. But, the flexibility in scheduling can help when there are more time-sensitive issues that need to be resolved.
Overall, mediation is a great solution to try and have parties resolve their differences on their own, without leaving the issues up to a Judge to decide.