FAQ: Mediation before Uncontested Divorce in Illinois

As an Illinois divorce mediator and divorce lawyer, I mediate divorces and also represent clients as a lawyer. But I can’t do both for the same person – that would be unethical. A mediator is a neutral, and a lawyer works for only one side of a case.

As an Illinois uncontested divorce lawyer, I’m often contacted by people who ask if I can represent both people. I cannot. But what I can do is help two people come to an agreement through mediation. Often, mediation proceeds an uncontested divorce in Illinois. That’s why I wrote this FAQ about mediation and uncontested divorce in Illinois.

Can’t we just both hire the same lawyer?

We’re in a hurry. How long does mediation take?

Personally, I don’t see why mediation should take longer than one month. If both people are really in the mood to agree, then the whole process should be fairly simply. As a divorce mediator in Illinois, I think that mediation should be as quick and painless as possible.

Most of my mediations don’t last more than three one-hour sessions. But keep in mind each one varies. Your situation is not exactly like anyone else’s.

We’re already in agreement. Can’t we just get divorced?

Coming to an agreement is definitely better than fighting. However, in my experience, people who think they are in agreement have often not come to an agreement which includes enough specificity for what is required in a marital settlement agreement (an “MSA”).

Mediation can still be useful for people who think they’re in agreement, but need to iron out the details.

After mediation, do we need a lawyer?

As a mediator and a divorce lawyer in Illinois, many of the mediations I handle result in my producing a document that is very similar to an actual marital settlement agreement. Therefore, some people might feel they are ready to get divorced and don’t need a lawyer. That’s not a totally invalid thought, but I’d like to share with you the following reasons why it might be smart to use a lawyer even after mediation:

  1. Procedure: Even if you reach an agreement in mediation, there is still procedure with which you must comply. The divorce will not be finalized without the proper procedure being followed.
  2. Advice: Someone acting as a lawyer gives legal advice – mediators do not, because divorce mediators are neutral. See this article I wrote about mediation and legal advice. It can be useful to have a lawyer review the agreement you reach through mediation.
  3. Saving time: If you work, then it’s likely that taking off work to do things in court is not a good investment – particularly when your case is uncontested. A lawyer will go to court for you.
  4. Appearing in court: When a divorce is uncontested, there is often only one court appearance, called the “prove up.” At the prove up, judges can ask questions and might want the parties to modify a marital settlement agreement that was reached. That might be problematic without a lawyer present.

How much will a lawyer cost after mediation?

As an uncontested divorce lawyer, I often get calls from people who say they have already mediated their divorce and they just want me to “file the paperwork” and appear in court. When that happens, I find the case fits into one of three categories:

  1. Ready to Go: In some rare cases, agreements that result from mediation are pretty much ready to be used in court. I find this is ONLY the case when the mediator is also a lawyer.
  2. Needs more specificity: When the mediator is also a lawyer that mediation often results in an agreement that is pretty much complete but might need to be tweaked a bit.
  3. Garbage: The mediation resulted in an agreement that is so general that it’s pretty much garbage. I find this is often the case with people who are mediators but not lawyers. I fact, some divorce mediators that rank very high in Google produce this type of garbage work. This makes since, since non-lawyer mediators aren’t as familiar with the law as lawyers, and have never represented someone in court.

What if mediation doesn’t work?

If mediation doesn’t work, one of you can hire a lawyer. Then the case will be litigated. But frankly, most cases don’t go to try. It’s mainly a matter of when a case will settle. Sooner, or later?

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.