Family law mediations address sensitive, contentious and personal issues in people’s private lives. It is for this reason that trust and comfort in the mediation process is essential to the success of family law mediations.
“Most people come into the process a little skeptical, either because they’ve already been through litigation and found it unpleasant or because they distrust their spouse and worry the process won’t be fair to them,” said Hon. Helaine L. Berger, (Ret.), senior mediator and arbitrator at ADR Systems. “In every case, it takes a bit of time to develop trust with the parties.”
That initial skepticism is often shaped by feelings of fear, according to Hon. Brian R. McKillip, (Ret.), senior mediator and arbitrator at ADR Systems.
“What’s going to happen to me? What will I have left? What future do my children have? These are questions we are all concerned about,” said Judge McKillip. “But when parties ask them in family law settings, as plans for their family’s future are coming undone, fear can consume them, making trust all the more challenging to establish, but all the more necessary for the good of the parties involved in the mediation.”
ADR Systems’ family law neutrals work to establish trust through pre-mediation conferences with the parties and their counsel. In these conferences, be they in person or over the phone, the neutrals review the mediation process in its entirety, ask questions to determine the parties’ needs, learn additional background information and offer the opportunity to submit confidential documents in advance of the mediation.
“Pre-mediation conferences allow counsel and the parties to tell me how I can best guide them through the process, and it allows me to manage their expectations during the process,” said Amy L. Gertler, Esq., senior mediator at ADR Systems. “From there, they can begin to trust me – to see that I really am neutral – and only then begin to trust the process.”
Equally as important as establishing trust with parties and counsel is ensuring that they are comfortable throughout the mediation process. Mediation’s appeal –- a non-adversarial process allowing parties to control their own destiny — contrasts with litigation, which pits parties against one another as adversaries vying for a decision about their lives from a judge.
“The setting for mediation is so much better than the courtroom. The law, in all its dignity, formality, austerity and impersonality, pervades the space of a courtroom,” said Judge McKillip. “The conference-like setting of mediation, however, provides a more personalized, flexible, and comfortable atmosphere for parties to talk to each other and mediate disputes.”
“When you are in court, you are at the mercy of the judge’s schedule”, explained Judge Berger. “ADR Systems has the ability to personalize a mediation by providing flexible times for the mediation to take place around your client’s schedule.”
At ADR Systems, parties and counsel are provided comfortable seating, additional rooms for private break-out settings, refreshments and concierge services. This helps set the stage for a productive mediation. Mediation through teleconferencing, Skype and video conferencing are also available for parties if an in-person session is not possible.
“Our goal is a full-service experience for parties and counsel,” said Ms. Gertler. “Fundamental to the success of every mediation is how we treat people. Showing respect and courtesy helps parties and counsel settle into the mediation, excising any impression that this will be just like litigation.”
This commitment to establishing trust and comfort reflects the seriousness of the work done by our neutrals in family law settings.
“We know our clients are going through an uncertain and emotional time. They may be scared or angry. We are all here to be a resource to families, to assist them through this very difficult time.” said Judge Berger. “By coming here, getting to know everybody involved in the mediation and forming more trusting relationships, the parties can let go of anxieties and determine where they are going to live and how they will pay their bills. And if children are involved, they will determine, when they will see their children. Parties who are comfortable and know they are in neutral territory, will think better and get better results.”
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.
Amy L. Gertler, Esq. is a senior mediator at ADR Systems and founder of Mediate North Shore PC. She has concentrated in family law throughout her 33-year legal career and has cultivated a deep understanding of the complex issues presented in family law mediations. Regarded by colleagues and clients as ethical, empathetic, forthright and collaborative, she delivers a personal approach to dispute resolution in family matters.
Hon. Brian R. McKillip, (Ret.) brings an extensive judicial career in family law matters to ADR Systems. He presided over custody, dissolution of marriage, parental rights, visitation matters and more for 11 years in the DuPage County Court’s Domestic Relations Division. His thorough knowledge of family law matters and ability to facilitate constructive dialogue between parties serves him well as a senior mediator and arbitrator.
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