The mediation process is advantageous to parties involved in family law disputes for many reasons. When explaining the benefits of mediation, Hon. Helaine L. Berger, (Ret.), senior mediator and arbitrator at ADR Systems, focuses on four key areas she refers to as the “four C’s” of family law mediation.
Mediation is substantially cheaper than litigation in family law settings, in which legal fees are paid from a couple’s marital assets.
The results of a 2017 survey reported that it can cost clients nearly twice as much money to litigate versus mediate a family law case.
With the cost of litigation averaging upwards of tens of thousands of dollars for family law matters, the expense of litigating a dispute can become an astronomical financial burden.
Mediation is confidential. The records of a family law court proceeding are available to the public. One’s neighbor, employer or children can read about the case, a family’s assets and finances and the intimate details of the litigants.
Family law mediation is entirely private. Sensitive matters remain private matters, with confidentiality agreements between the parties cementing that fact.
In litigation, parties abdicate their decision-making power to a judge, who will decide their case according to the existing law and statutes. Parties are opposed to one another, each striving for a favorable decision. A judge’s determination is based on the law, not what is important to people involved.
In mediation, parties control how their matter will be resolved. The mediation process inherently respects the unique needs and interests of the parties because they work together to settle disputes over contested issues. Matters such as maintenance, division of assets and parenting time (if children are involved) are settled by the parties themselves.
Findings from the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology reported that parents more successfully co-parented their children after mediating their dispute as opposed to litigating it. Relatedly, the same 2017 survey noted earlier also reported significantly higher client satisfaction rates from attorneys who helped clients mediate rather than litigate their family law disputes.
Mediation gives clients control over their own destiny, rather than giving that control to a judge.
Since parties retain more control in mediation, they can arrive at creative solutions to complex problems. These creative solutions can address issues that would not and, at times, could not be addressed in court.
Parties in many cases travel for work, work long hours, and are raising children with medical, learning, and emotional needs. The mediation process allows parties to place these schedules, commitments and needs at the forefront of their mediation, allowing the parties to feel comfortable enough to move forward with a process centered on the particulars of their daily lives and commitments.
Financial professionals can even be included in the mediation process for cases that involve a large estate, a family-owned business or other unique financial issues. With their help, parties can develop complex solutions to family law disputes that minimize taxes, honor moral obligations (e.g. loans from family members) or mitigate risks to the parties (e.g. buy outs of maintenance obligations or high/low agreements regarding income variations). Mediation gives all involved the time necessary and the structure to look at alternatives to traditional settlements and find ways to benefit both parties.
The discretion and flexibility in family law mediation allow parties to customize solutions to their disputes in ways that will best serve their family, their finances and their children. While parties have complex life transitions ahead of them, mediation encourages them to find common ground and reach a settlement that works for all.
Hon. Helaine L. Berger, (Ret.) is an experienced civil litigator who tried cases in Criminal, Chancery, Law and Domestic Relations before serving as a judge in Cook County’s Domestic Relations Division for 19 years. Judge Berger has been active in the legal community, including Chair of the CBA’s Fee Committee and President of the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois. She is now a senior mediator and arbitrator at ADR Systems where she concentrates in family law. Judge Berger is flexible and creative in her approach to mediation and has helped ADR Systems launch an innovative fast track mediation program for family law cases.
 Boyd, John-Paul E., et al. “An Evaluation of the Cost of Family Law Disputes.” Canadian Forum on Civil Justice, 2017.
 Dillon, Peter, et al. “Child Custody Mediation and Litigation: Custody, Contact, and Coparenting 12 Years After Initial Dispute Resolution.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, vol. 69, no. 2, 2001, pp. 323-332