Before hiring a divorce mediator, ask . . .

So you want to start divorce mediation? And you are looking for a divorce mediator in Illinois? Some are fast. Some are affordable. But if you want to find the best divorce mediator for you, before hiring a divorce mediator, ask . . .

Before hiring a divorce mediator in Illinois, you should ask some questions. it should be easy to get the answers. These questions will help you determine if the mediator is any good, or if the divorce mediator is just a “divorce tourist” playing with your life to make a quick buck.

Question 1: Are you a lawyer?

There are mediators. And then there are mediators who are also attorneys. I’ll refer to such a person as an attorney-mediator.

Yes, you should hire an attorney-mediator.

Remember, if a non-attorney mediator has a question, that person asks a divorce lawyer. But it doesn’t work the other way around.

A divorce in Illinois is a legal matter, and therefore, you should have someone with legal training to mediate a legal matter. It boggles my mind that it’s even legal for non-lawyers to mediate legal agreements. It makes no sense, and those people simply are not qualified.

But you can take the legislature for that. Thanks to Illinois’ Uniform Mediation Act [link], a mediator is simply “an individual who conducts a mediation.” You don’t need any qualifications whatsoever.

Question 2: Have you ever practiced divorce law?

If you decided to hire an attorney-mediator, then you’ve taken one step in the right direction.

But you might not have made much progress if the attorney-mediator you’ve found has never practiced divorce law.

That’s because being a great attorney-mediator requires more than just having a law license. It requires a detailed understanding of divorce law in Illinois, an understanding of possible outcomes if a divorce is litigated, and the ability to foresee plausible difficulties that could arise from agreeing to certain terms.

Just any old lawyer won’t be able to do that. It doesn’t matter if that lawyer worked at a fancy law firm, went to Harvard, or did something else that seems superficially impressive.

Question 3: What is your mediation philosophy?

At Divorce Mediation in Illinois, we believe that divorce mediation should be to the point, and not waste time. If we think the mediation isn’t productive, we will tell you – instead of wasting your money dragging on mediation indefinitely.

In contrast, some mediators are happy to make a divorce mediation take forever. For example, in my legal practice I recently took on a client that had mediated his divorce for approximately one year with a mediator based around Evanston, Illinois. I looked up this mediator, and it appears that she never practiced in divorce law. But even if she had, it seems highly unethical to me to allow someone to mediator for one year – particularly when the case involves a young couple with one kid and very few assets.

Question 4: How do you help people reach agreement if they get stuck?

People sometimes get stuck in mediation. They wan’t to agree, but seem to be stalled.

If that happens, we can take the following steps:

  1. Explain the consequences of failing to agree
  2. Recommend creative solutions based on years of practicing as a divorce lawyer
  3. Explain why some solutions may be legally impossible, or lead to problems in the future

Unless your mediator is an attorney-mediator who has also practiced in divorce law, that mediator will be ill-equipped to take any of the above steps.

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.