Illinois Divorce Mediation

We've seen tremendous growth nationwide year-over-year in the use of divorce mediation - Illinois area couples are no exception.

In fact, one of the most popular local searches that lead people to our website is "Can I get a divorce in Illinois without a lawyer?"

That confirms what we already know - more and more smart Illinois couples are seeking a more peaceful and cost-effective alternative to the emotionally devastating and financially ruinous attorney-driven divorce litigation.

And that process is Illinois divorce mediation.

So if you're in the beginning stages of planning for a divorce, below you'll find answers to common questions about how divorce mediation works.

Or, if you already know you want to mediate your divorce, and you live anywhere in Illinois, book a mediation strategy session today!

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Joe and Cheryl are easy to work with and really want to see both parties through the process. They are very professional and deliver on their services.

I never felt judged or slighted and am glad we chose to work with a mediator like Joe instead of divorce lawyers. Equitable Mediation was definitely a more civilized way to go.

- E.K.
former client, Chicago, IL

Joe, It has been very pleasant working with you and we feel very lucky to have come across someone as professional, knowledgeable and compassionate as you have been during this process. Thank you!

- M.K.
former client, Northbrook, IL

It was so refreshing working with you after all we've heard about lawyers.

You made it a lot easier than we ever thought possible. Thank you Joe & Cheryl!

- T.G.
former client, Chicago, IL

What is Divorce Mediation in Illinois?

Divorce mediation is a process whereby a couple works with a neutral, unbiased mediator to help them resolve the issues of divorce.

Divorce mediation is more peaceful, takes less time and costs less than the traditional litigation process involving attorneys or court.



How is Illinois Divorce Mediation Conducted?

In Illinois, divorce mediation may be conducted privately or publicly.


Private mediation is not mandated by the court or a judge.

The couple chooses to mediate. They seek out this option and agree up-front to take part - it's voluntary mediation.

So if you and your husband or wife both want to use mediation, you’d hire a private divorce mediator like Joe, and this is most typically done before you file for divorce.

Your divorce mediator, (Joe) will guide you through his comprehensive mediation process and help you identify, discuss, negotiate and resolve all of the issues surrounding your divorce, privately and confidentially.


On the other hand, if you choose to litigate using a divorce attorney, you'd likely be sent to a family law court-ordered mediation process.

Yes, you read that correctly – many counties in Illinois, including the largest of them all - Cook county, now have court ordered mediation proceedings whereby a couple litigating will be required to engage in custody and parenting time mediation and an economic (financial) mediation session now offered through the family courts.

And while we’re always pleased when couples mediate, no matter what route they took to get there, we feel there are a number of shortcomings with court-ordered mediation:

First, you don’t get to choose your mediator like you would with private mediation. So you could end up with an Illinois divorce mediator you don’t like, or you’re not comfortable working with.

Second, the approved mediators on the court roster may not be the most experienced. The only requirement to become an Illinois court-ordered mediator is to take a 40-hour training class. So many new mediators get their start mediating for the courts, and have little or no "real-world" experience.

Finally, what if your issues are so complex that even if the court certified mediator isn't fresh out of training, they still aren’t experienced handling unique issues like yours?

In that case, divorce mediation would probably be unsuccessful and a waste of time.



What are the divorce issues that need to be resolved in Illinois?

For couples with no children or grown children, there are two main issues that the parties (spouses) need to resolve. For couples with minor children, there are four:


Creation of a Parenting Plan / Time Sharing:


In Illinois, issues of the allocation of parental responsibility and determination of time sharing must be agreed upon by the parties and drafted into a parenting plan.

The parenting plan covers all aspects of child custody and how you will co-parent your children once you’re divorced. This includes where your kids will spend nights, weekends, and holidays, and how you and your ex will take part in decision making on matters such as education, religion, and medical issues, to name but a few.

You might think developing your parenting plan will be easy. However, it can actually become a source of conflict between divorcing couples in Illinois, even if both spouses want what's best for the children.

Take for example deciding where school-aged children should live.

During our time as residents of Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood, we saw many young families come and go - choosing to relocate to the North Shore, or the western 'burbs as their children reached school age, or their dissatisfaction with CPS grew.

So let's say you and your soon-to-be ex are currently living in a duplex down in Logan Square. And you both agree that a 50-50 parenting time arrangement would be ideal.

But your spouse wants to relocate to Naperville with the kids and you think staying in Chicago is the best option for all involved.

One one hand, life in the suburbs may be good for your kids. But so is living in a city. Not to mention your jobs are still in The Loop, and moving would add a considerable amount of time (and stress) to your already hectic mornings. And you're not ok with that.

Since the goal of any good parenting plan is to focus on "the best interests of the children," and each of you have a different idea of what that means, how do you resolve this topic?

Because there is very little guidance on how to create a balanced and effective parenting plan, the help of an experienced, professional and neutral third party divorce mediator like Joe is critical in this very gray area.


To learn more about how parenting plans work and why they’re the most important issue you’ll face in your divorce, please read: Divorce with Kids: The Importance of a Good Parenting Plan.



Determining Child Support


How child support is determined varies greatly state-by-state, and can change from year-to-year. In fact, in July of 2017, Illinois made a major change to its Illinois child support guidelines.

Previously, Illinois used something called the "percentage of obligor's income model" whereby a flat percentage of the paying party's net income was given to the recipient spouse based on the number of children the parties had together.

Now, Illinois is using an "income shares" model which uses a number of factors to determine a basic child support amount, and allocates a portion of that amount to each parent. Much like with the previous model, it is non-taxable.

And while you might think this sounds pretty straightforward, it's far from it as there are a number of factors that can complicate things when determining Illinois child support.

For example, one of the factors is the number of minor children a couple has.

Let's say you have one child who is a senior in high school and another in 9th grade. In other words, at the time of your divorce, you have two minor children.

Since child support is intended for minor children, what do you do when during the term of your agreement, one child ages out?

Then there's the issue of extraordinary expenses.

The basic child support amount in Illinois excludes a number of other "extraordinary expenses" such as college and extracurricular activities which must be negotiated separately.

Speaking of college - did you know Illinois is one of a handful of states that can require divorced parents to pay for their child's college education?

Stay married, you and your spouse have no obligation to pay. But end your marriage, and it's a completely different story. And even if you and your spouse agree that a college education for your kids is important, it's not as simple as getting out your checkbook.

For example, what if you think it's ok for your child to take a "gap year," or take 6 years to graduate, while your spouse thinks 4 years is more appropriate and your son or daughter can "find themselves" after they graduate?

There are a whole host of issues that are best addressed and resolved at the time of your divorce when it comes to paying for college. Otherwise, you might be fighting about these things in the bleachers at your child's high school graduation, instead of enjoying the ceremony and celebrating!

Determining child support in Illinois is not as simple as running a calculator and coming up with an amount, as there is a lot left out of the child support guidelines in Illinois.

That’s why it’s important to work with a divorce mediator with a financial background like Joe - to ensure your children get the financial support they need and don’t become the economic victims of your divorce.


To learn more about how child support works in Illinois, please read: Safeguarding Your Children with Child Support in Illinois.



Determining Maintenance (Alimony)


In Illinois, the payment of money from one ex-spouse to another is called maintenance.

Maintenance in Illinois is different from child support in that it is to be used by the recipient spouse to assist with their expenses and not the children's.

And like child support, there is an Illinois maintenance guideline, but there are significant limitations and it may be inappropriate in some situations.

For example, let's say you and your spouse have been married for 30 years, the kids are grown and out of the house, you're in your 50's and are a surgeon who wants to soon retire.

Based on the duration of your marriage, the guidelines in Illinois would have you paying maintenance until long after normal retirement age.

Does that mean you'll need to continue performing delicate surgeries until you're (very) old and gray?

Sure, you knew you'd have to pay alimony for some period of time, but you don't want to be forced to continue working! Especially given the mental and physical demands of your profession.

So how do you determine a fair support amount and duration that also enables you to retire before you're 85 years-old?

And what if you're self-employed and your income is highly variable, you don't take a regular paycheck, you run personal expenses through your business, and at the end of the year, you receive a lump sum distribution from profits?

How do you determine maintenance then?

But just because Illinois maintenance is a difficult issue to resolve doesn't mean all hope is lost.

A couple can choose to deviate from the guideline if they both agree to do so. And Joe has a number of techniques and tools to help guide you to a maintenance agreement that allows both of you to move forward financially now, and also in the future as your financial circumstances change.


To learn more about how maintenance works in Illinois, please read: Determining Alimony in Illinois.



Determining Equitable Distribution (Division of Marital Assets & Liabilities)


Equitable distribution is the method by which divorcing couples divide their marital assets and liabilities. And is typically the last issue a mediating couple will need to discuss and resolve.

Illinois is an equitable distribution state. Meaning couples can come to any agreement they find “fair and equitable” when it comes to marital property division.

But there are a number of unique challenges to resolving the financial topic of Illinois property division because there's little in the way of formulas or guidelines.

For example, a common issue that many divorcing couples face is dividing retirement assets.

Let's say you've been married 30 years,  your spouse has a corporate job with a 401k, and you've been a stay-at-home parent.

You and your spouse both agree that you want to have the same amount of funds available to you at retirement. So you decide now at the time of your divorce to divide the 401k equally.

But what about the additional years after you're divorced where your ex-spouse has the ability to continue making contributions to that 401k and receive company matching on those contributions? You don't get that benefit.

And because your spouse worked, their social security benefit will be much higher than yours at the time of full retirement.

So by the time retirement comes around, the funds you each have available are not the same.

This is where a mediator with a financial background like Joe can be instrumental. Joe is not only aware of the unique issues that couples in your situation face, but over the years, has developed a number of approaches to fairly resolve this potentially thorny issue and ensure you are both on the best possible financial footing heading into retirement.


To learn more about how equitable distribution works in Illinois, please read: Equitable Distribution in Illinois.



What can I expect at a divorce mediation?

The divorce mediation process will vary because no two mediators are alike. But here’s a high level overview of what you can expect when working with us:

  • We refer to the first part of our process as Financial Discovery, and it's all about financial disclosure in preparation for your negotiations. Doing this creates a strong foundation for mediation and improves the thoroughness of your negotiations.
  • Once you've completed your Financial Discovery, you'll participate in a series of mediation sessions (typically 2-4 sessions). It’s in this part of the process that Joe will guide you through a series of conversations encompassing the issues that need to be resolved for your divorce. If areas of disagreement arise, Joe will use his expertise in a variety of conflict resolution techniques to help you create, discuss and evaluate various options, negotiate with your spouse and subsequently reach a mutually-acceptable agreement on how these topics will be handled.
  • Once agreement is reached for all of the required issues, Joe will draft a complex written document called a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), outlining all decisions made during the negotiations.

Our mediation takes an average of 2-3 months to complete from start-to-finish, which is a fraction of the time to complete a litigated divorce or collaborative law process working with family law attorneys.

Learn more about how you benefit by mediating with us.



How much does divorce mediation cost in Illinois?

The total cost of divorce mediation in Illinois varies greatly and is dependent on a number of factors including, but not limited to:

  • The skills and experience of the mediator;
  • How thorough the mediator’s process is (and whether or not they have a process at all);
  • The services provided by the mediator;
  • The willingness of the divorcing spouses to negotiate and settle the issues.

To learn more, read: The Real Truth Behind Divorce Mediation Costs



How do we know if divorce mediation is a viable option for our divorce in Illinois?

Divorce mediation is a practical option for your divorce if:

  • There’s a level of mutual respect between you and your spouse, and you’re both willing to actively participate;
  • You’re both prepared to engage in a “good faith,” honest negotiation requiring full disclosure;
  • You want a competent divorce expert to help you resolve the required topics, but you want to make your own decisions and retain full control over your divorce agreement.

Expert Illinois Divorce Mediation Services!

Whether you've been married a short time or have been together for many years, work inside the home or outside of it, have minor children, grown children or are child-free, mediation is the smartest way to divorce in Illinois.

If you and your husband or wife agreed to a mediated divorce, take the next step and book a mediation strategy session for the two of you today!

Book a Strategy Session


Or, if you're early in the process, learn how you (and your family) benefit using mediation for divorce in Illinois.


Where are Equitable Mediation's Illinois Locations?


If you live anywhere in the state of Illinois, you can mediate your divorce with Joe using our innovative and convenient online divorce mediation services.

While most Illinois divorce mediators only recently began practicing online as a reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve been mediating online since 2011!

And have successfully mediated cases online in numerous Illinois cities and counties.

  • All of Cook County, including, but not limited to: Chicago, Northbrook, and Evanston.
  • DuPage County
  • Lake County
  • Will County



Other Questions About Divorce and Divorce Mediation in Illinois:

Is a mediator a neutral third party? Or will they give me advice, or tell me what to do?

Unlike an attorney, mediators act as a neutral third party, and will not give you legal advice or tell you what to do. Parties who choose to work with a mediator wish to make their own decisions on issues such as custody or property division, instead of being told what to do by an attorney.

Think of mediators like conductors in an orchestra. Conductors lead the symphony, and mediators lead the mediation process. But conductors don’t make the music, just like mediators don’t make the decisions for the parties. Yet without a conductor, or a mediator, the divorce proceedings would get off track, and the participants wouldn’t know what to do.

Learn more about divorce mediation.


Is divorce mediation the same as divorce and family mediation?

Divorce mediation is a subset and is focused on conflict resolution - helping married couples peacefully and cost-effectively end their marriage.

Whereas divorce and family mediation is broader in scope, with mediators helping parties resolve matters related to family, but not directly related to divorce. For example, creating a visitation / child custody arrangement for a child of an unmarried couple, or assisting with the property division of a family-owned business.


What’s the difference between mediation and alternative dispute resolution?

The term “alternative dispute resolution” or ADR for short, refers to any dispute resolution process that eliminates the parties need to resolve their issues and matters in court. Mediation is simply one type of ADR processes. Other common types may include, but are not limited to, collaborative divorce, arbitration, peace circles, and restorative justice.

The idea behind ADR is to keep the parties out of expensive and damaging litigation, and instead, with the help of a neutral third party such as a mediator, reach agreement without having to go to court.


How does mediation compare to divorce using lawyers?

There are significant differences between divorce mediation and lawyers ranging from the number of professionals involved, approach, cost, speed, control, tone, and more!

Read mediation vs divorce lawyer, and the benefits we believe mediation provides.


What’s the difference between a divorce and dissolution of marriage?

While most people think of divorce and dissolution of marriage as the same thing, in some states they are not. Some practitioners think of a divorce as being contested, and dissolution of marriage as being uncontested. That is, in a dissolution of marriage, the issues were all resolved using a divorce mediator, during the mediation process, and many of the steps in a traditional divorce process were skipped (such as hiring an attorney or going to court).

In Illinois, it is common for people to use the terms divorce and dissolution of marriage interchangeably, but as non-attorney mediators, we can’t fully comment on the accuracy of this statement, nor its legal impact on a divorce case.


What is an uncontested divorce?

In Illinois, an uncontested divorce, also commonly known as a no-fault divorce, is one in which the parties are able to resolve, and come to agreement on, all of their issues, without the need to hire an attorney / attorneys and needing to have the matters resolved in court.

When parties work with a mediator, all divorces by definition are uncontested divorces. Because a highly skilled Illinois divorce mediator will be able to help a divorcing couple resolve, and come to agreement on, all issues within the mediation process. In turn, eliminating the need to hire an attorney and go to court to resolve them.

One thing that’s important to note, and admittedly it’s a bit of a technicality, is that an “uncontested divorce” isn’t really a "no-fault divorce.” Every divorce has a fault; it’s just that in the case of a divorce process that uses a mediator to come to agreement, the “fault" is an uncontested divorce.