Year started: 1982
Eligibility: All cases involving custody and visitation
Free Mediation Services Available?: No
Family Mediation Services (formerly the Marriage and Family Counseling Service for the Circuit Court of Cook County) has offered reconciliation and conciliation services since the late 1960s. Family Mediation Services first added mediation as one of its ADR services in 1982. Out of roughly 20,000 divorce cases filed per year, FMS mediates about 2,400. Of those 20,000, only those cases which have contested custody or visitation issues are referred to the program.
The program caseload includes both pre-decree (parties in the process of divorce) and post-decree (parties' whose divorce is complete) cases. Pre-decree cases, in which child custody is contested, are to be referred to mediation. Pre-decree cases in which visitation is contested, and contested post-decree cases may be referred to mediation based upon request of one or both parties, by the child's attorney, or on the court's own motion. Even though referral to mediation is court-ordered, any agreements between the parties are voluntary.
The majority of mediations are held at the FMS office at 69 W. Washington, Chicago. However, some mediations are held at the outlying courts in Skokie, Rolling Meadows, Markham, and Bridgeview. All mediations are free of charge to the parties, and are privileged and confidential. FMS' exceptions to confidentiality are reasonable beliefs of child abuse or neglect, or serious imminent harm to someone in or out of the mediation session.
Only non-financial parenting issues are addressed in the mediations, and generally center on custody and visitation. A typical case is a disagreement between a mother and father as to whom should be a residential parent, each wanting the child to reside with him or her. FMS also mediates "parentage cases" (conflicts between parents who have never been married but have children together), same-sex couples, grandparent visitation, and other types of issues. The mediation sessions are organized into 2 two-hour meetings, in addition to an intake and screening session. At the second mediation session, children between the ages of 4 and 17 are interviewed individually in order to get a sense of how they are getting through the divorce. These interviews are confidential as well, with the exceptions noted above. The children are never put in a position of having to pick and choose between parents.
If the mediation results in a full agreement or a temporary or partial agreement, the mediator writes up what parties agreed to, gives a copy to the parties, their attorneys, and the judge. Agreements reached in mediation are not legally binding at that point in time. A status date is scheduled to return to court, and before that date the parties should confer with their attorneys to decide if they feel the matters are settled or if they would prefer to return to court to have the judge make the decision. FMS does not keep settlement rate (agreements per cases mediated) statistics.
The mediation staff consists of approximately 20 mediators who are all employees of the Circuit Court of Cook County. The majority of mediators hold advanced degrees in the mental health field. Other mediators have legal backgrounds, or child-related expertise. Family Mediation Services is governed under Cook County Circuit Court Rule 13.4.
Illinois Circuit Court of Cook County. Jan. 1, 2020
Resource Type: Rules - Court
Abstract: The local rules for Illinois' Circuit Court of Cook County.
Part 13- Domestic Relations Proceedings: Rule 13.4(e) refers to and provides rules regarding the Circuit Court of Cook County's Family Mediation Services.
Part 19 - Child Protection Media...Illinois Supreme Court. Article I - Illinois Supreme Court General Rules, Oct. 10, 2001
Resource Type: Rules - Court
Abstract: This rule authorizes judicial circuits to undertake mediation programs. Circuits electing to establish mediation program are directed to adopt rules for the conduct of mediation proceedings and to submit them to the Supreme Court. The Rule specifies ...
Summary: This form is used by the Cook County, Illinois, Marriage and Family Counseling Service to screen cases prior to mediation. It can be filled out by the parent or be completed by a staff person through an interview. It provides information about the parties' background and current situation, as well as information that can raise red flags about domestic violence. It is available in English and Spanish.
Circuit Court of Cook County Family Mediation Services
69 W. Washington St.
Chicago, IL 60602