Illinois Supreme Court expands mediation in child custody cases

In Illinois, judicial circuit courts must offer mediation programs for child custody and visitation cases according to Supreme Court Rule 905. Earlier this month, the Illinois Supreme Court announced that the rules will be expanded to include child custody cases involving a request from the custodial parents to move with the minor child to another state.

Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution in which the parties meet with a neutral third-party who helps facilitate negotiations. Mediation is often less expensive, less time-consuming and less emotionally-draining than litigation, which is why it is recommended in many family law cases.

Under the new rules, every judicial circuit in the state will be required to submit information quarterly that reports the number of custody, visitation and removal cases that were referred to mediation as well as the outcome of the mediation.

The information, which will be used for administrative and statistical purposes, will also track the number of cases that were referred to mediation on a pro bono basis and the percentage of cases in which the parties expressed a satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the mediation process.

Upon recommendation from the Supreme Court Committee on Child Custody Issues, a new set of rules governing child custody issues were established by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2006. The goals of the rules were to help make sure that child custody matters are handled in a competent manner and to place the primary focus on the “best interests of the child.”

In addition to offering mediation programs in child custody cases, the rules, which are encapsulated in the 900 series, also require that child custody cases are handled expeditiously. More specifically, the rules require that continuances not be granted “except for good cause shown” and that judges issue decisions no later than 60 days after the completion of the trial or hearing.

While many parents depend on a judge to make the ultimate ruling in child custody cases, if the parents are able to reach a settlement in mediation it is often favorable to the child as well as the co-parenting relationship.

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