Do divorce mediators give advice?

As an Illinois divorce mediator, many people ask me if they can get advice in mediation. That’s understandable. People seeking a quick and affordable divorce mediation usually want to feel secure they are making the right decision.

If you want to get advice from an Illinois divorce mediator, you should read this article about a mediator’s role.

Definition of divorce mediator

A divorce mediator is a third-party neutral who tries to help divorcing spouses reach an agreement. The idea of neutrality is key. It means that the mediator does not take on or the other person’s side.

A divorce mediator in Illinois does not have to be a lawyer, but should be. Mediators who are not lawyers are often ill-equipped to properly inform mediating parties about the law and court procedures. Further, they often illegally (and poorly) practice law without a license.

Types of advice desired

Many people in mediation want legal advice.

First, many mediators are not lawyers – so even if they weren’t a “neutral,” they still wouldn’t be qualified to give legal advice.

But as a divorce lawyer, I commonly give legal advice to my clients – but I can’t give such advice to either party in a divorce mediation in Illinois.

Many times, people will ask a question which starts with “Should I . . . ?”

If I were to answer that question, that would be advice. The  role of a mediator is to help people reach agreements they can live with, not to help them determine what options they value over other options.

People often want advice that answers some of the below questions:

  1. Should I be asking for more money than this?
  2. Should I be okay with this amount of time with my kids?
  3. Is this fair?
  4. What should I do to get him/her to agree to what I want?

Answering those questions would be advice, in my opinion, and should not be done by a mediator.  Parties in a mediation need to take responsibility for understanding what they want to get out of the mediation.

What if a mediator gives advice?

If you are involved in a mediation, and a mediator is giving advice, it might be a good idea to immediately discontinue that mediation. The problem is the nature of the advice. Most advice about divorce will necessarily be about how one party can get something more out of the other party. And if that type of advice is given, it seems that the mediator is no longer neutral. And the lack of neutrality makes mediation inappropriate.

A Poem on mediation

The below poem is by Hong Kong mediator TK lu. It might help clarify the role of a mediator and why a mediator does not give advice. it is titled, “SETTLEMENT: A Mediator’s Prayer”

Thank you for allowing me to be a humble mediator and serving the public by way of mediation services.

As a mediator, I shall:-
Set the scene for the negotiation
Engage the parties
Take note of their needs, concerns and fears
Take note of the common ground
Listen passively and actively
Empathize with the parties
Manage negative emotions positively
Empower the parties
Nudge but not push
Take note that it is an assignment from God, it is the parties’ dispute, the parties’ negotiation and their decision on the way forward.

Notice that no where in that poem does TK address the issue of advice in divorce mediation. Because he knows his role is not to give advice, but to help the parties reach their own agreement.

If you need advice, you should seek a divorce lawyer in Illinois.

About the author: David Wolkowitz is an Illinois Divorce mediator and a family law attorney. He mediates divorce, child custody, and child visitation disputes to help spouses and parents reach agreement without litigation.