Family Court Services Mediation

Family Court Services provides mediation services to parent litigants in the Circuit Court of Cook County’s Domestic Relations Division. FCS’ mediation process provides a safe and confidential forum for parents to focus on their child(ren)’s needs post-separation and divorce, and to help parents to become informed decision-makers while working to create an effective parenting plan.

The Mediation Process

Mediation affords parents an opportunity to discuss their child(ren)’s future in a non-adversarial way with the assistance of a neutral and unbiased third party (the mediator). The goal of mediation is to reinforce parents as decision-makers for their children instead of looking to a judge to direct their future. In mediation, parents have the right to self-determination, meaning that they are free to agree–or not to agree–on what the future should be for their children; therefore, the mediator serves only as a facilitator and not as a decision-maker. All mediation communications are confidential and privileged. The hope is that through mediation, parents can identify common ground and see one another as “co-parents” as opposed to assigning blame for past events.

Court Order

Mediation at FCS is free, and available to parents only through a court’s order. The order must identify the issues that are to be discussed in mediation. Several of the issues identified in the order may include: (1) determinations of allocation of parental responsibilities; (2) modification of allocation of parental responsibilities; (3) creation of a parenting time schedule (this could include weekly, weekend, holiday, and vacation parenting time); (4) modification of a parenting time schedule; and (5) relocation of the child(ren). The order must include contact information for both parents, contact information for any attorney of record, Guardian ad Litem (GAL) or Attorney for the child(ren), and information regarding the minor child(ren). The order must also contain a court status date for FCS to report the outcome of mediation to the judge. Once a judge enters an order for mediation, the order must be sent to FCS at Upon receipt of the order, FCS will assign a mediator to the case. Parents and attorneys are contacted through the information provided on the court order, and informed of mediation appointment dates and times.  

Initial Duties of the Mediator

Parents are given two appointments to complete mediation. During the first appointment, the mediator must inform parents that the mediation process is confidential and privileged, and must also explain the limitations of that confidentiality and privilege. Each parent is then screened separately for any impediments to the mediation process, to ensure that mediation is appropriate and safe for all participants. The information shared during the screening is kept confidential from anyone else, including the other parent. The mediator must define and describe the process of mediation to the participants, including the procedure that will follow if an impediment to mediation becomes apparent after the mediation process has commenced. If a mediator determines that an impediment to mediation exists, they shall indicate such on a Mediation Status Report by marking the case “inappropriate for mediation” and submit it to the court by the status date scheduled on the court order. The particular impediment or reason for marking the case inappropriate shall not be disclosed except to inform law enforcement or child protective services if necessary. Once screening is complete and it is determined that mediation can occur, the mediator will inform participants how mediation will proceed. 

    Non-Advocate Neutral

    The mediator serves as a facilitator of the mediation process, to assist parents in communicating their ideas and proposals in an effort to reach an agreement. Mediators must advise parents that they do not represent nor advocate for either parent, nor do they provide therapy or counseling to either party.

    Mandatory Reporting

    FCS mediators are mandated to report any suspicions of abuse or neglect of any minor child(ren) to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). Mediators must explain the mandated reporting requirements of the Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act, 325 ILCS 5/1 et seq. as well as the limitations of the rules of privilege and confidentiality in the mediation process. 

    Legal Advice and Attorney Access

    Mediators will not provide any legal advice. Mediators may, however, provide information to parents on how to access legal representation and advice through available legal resources for self-represented litigants and Pro Bono legal services. Mediators must advise parents that they have a right to consult with an attorney at any time during the mediation process. 

    Conflicts of Interest

    FCS mediators must disclose the nature and extent of any existing relationships with the parties or their attorneys and any personal, financial, or other interests that could result in bias or a conflict of interest on the part of the mediator. The mediator who discloses a conflict–real or perceived–will be replaced by a different FCS mediator who is free of any possible conflict of interest. 

    Caucusing or Shuttle Mediation

    The mediator must inform parents that it may become necessary to speak separately with one or both parents, or either party’s attorney, without the other parent or the other parent’s attorney being present. Mediators may also decide to “shuttle” the mediation by conducting mediation with no direct communication between parents. Shuttle mediation may be employed to protect the integrity of the mediation process or to protect the physical and emotional safety of all participants. 

    Child Interviews

    Parents are given two two-and-a-half hour appointments to complete mediation. As part of the second mediation appointment, mediators may interview children between the ages of 5-17. FCS uses a child-focused mediation model through which parents are empowered to focus on future co-parenting and the impact of their decision-making on their children. Children are interviewed separately from their parents, and their interviews are also confidential and privileged. Children do not take part in the decision-making process. They are interviewed only to ascertain their understanding of and adjustment to their family’s new reality, in the hope that parents will consider their needs when making decisions regarding their future.

    Some benefits of interviewing children as part of the mediation process include:

    • Mediator can provide feedback to the parents about the child(ren)’s perceived needs – parents may be better able to hear such information from an objective, impartial third party. The feedback may also help parents to focus more on the best interests of their child(ren).
    • Reality check – parents may be relieved to know that the child(ren) are not afraid and are adjusting well to their new reality; or, parents may be surprised by the child(ren)’s difficulty in adjusting.
    • Child interviews can validate the child(ren)’s feelings; the mediator can acknowledge and normalize a child’s feelings and experience. 
    • Stimulate movement and solidify an agreement – upon receiving feedback about the child(ren)’s adjustment, parents may be able to move beyond impasse to create a durable, child-centered agreement.
    • Helps mediator determine if referrals would be helpful, and which referrals would be most appropriate. (e.g., counseling, school conference, child support groups)

    A mediator may decide that a child interview is not recommended if a child is so developmentally disabled that an interview may be detrimental or impossible.

    Safety and Technology

    FCS provides a safe environment for mediation participants through the presence of a Cook County Sheriff’s deputy and separate waiting rooms. Parents are given staggered arrival and departure times for appointments. Mediators may use telephone or videoconference to complete mediation. Whether mediation occurs in-person or by telephone or by videoconference, all parties are required to maintain proper language, behavior and decorum as if they were present in a courtroom. 

    No participant in the mediation process shall be permitted to use any electronic device to record audio or video. 

    Completion of the Mediation Process

    Once mediation is complete, the mediator must memorialize any agreements made in writing and provide a written copy to each parent. Written copies must also be submitted to any attorney of record (including any GAL or Attorney for the child(ren)), and to the court before the court status date. The mediator must also submit to the court, parents, and any attorney of record before the court status date a copy of the Mediation Status Report which shall indicate when mediation occurred, who participated, if children were interviewed, and the outcome (Full Agreement, Partial Agreement, or No Agreement; if mediation was Not Completed, Did Not Occur, or if the case is Inappropriate for Mediation). Copies of mediation agreements will not be provided once the court status date has passed.  

    Please note that mediation agreements are voluntary and non-binding. A mediated agreement must be approved and entered by a judge to become enforceable and binding upon parents. 

    Frequently Asked Questions

      Mediation is a confidential process for parents who are in court because of disagreements regarding issues such as decision-making and parenting time involving their children. The court makes mediation available through a court order for parents to work with a neutral third party (the mediator) to help resolve any disagreements or conflicts.

      Yes. Mediation is conducted by court order only. The ordering judge expects parents who are ordered to mediation to participate in the process.

      Mediation is confidential and privileged, which means that the mediator can only report to the judge if there was an agreement reached in mediation or not.

      No. There is no cost for mediation at Family Court Services. Parents must have a valid court order from a Domestic Relations Division judge to participate.

      No. Mediation is a court-ordered proceeding which only takes place during the Court’s operating hours on weekdays (Monday through Friday).

      The mediator will speak with each parent privately to determine the best way to proceed. Mediation may be completed with parents speaking with one another or not

      If the judge orders mediation, then parents are expected to comply with the judge’s order. The mediator will speak with each parent privately to determine the best way to proceed with the mediation; however, if the mediator determines that your case in inappropriate for mediation, the process will be terminated and referred back to the judge. 

      As part of the mediation process, mediators may interview children between the ages of 5-17. Mediators are expected to ascertain the child(ren)’s understanding of and adjustment to their family’s new reality. In conducting confidential interviews with children, the hope is that parents will consider their child(ren)’s needs when making decisions regarding their future.

      Childcare is available for minor children in the Children’s Advocacy Room during regular court hours of 8:30am until 4:30pm, Monday through Friday.

      Mediation is offered in Spanish and in Polish. Interpreters are available for languages other than English – including Sign Language. 

      No. All audio and visual recording or photography of any kind is strictly prohibited.

      Mediation participants are allowed to have their attorneys attend mediation if they so choose, but participation in the process is only between parents and the mediator.