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Mediation, collaboration in divorce are better for the kids

Family law professionals in Illinois say that couples are opting for mediation and collaboration in divorce more and more of late. The economy may be one reason: On average, litigation is about ten times more expensive than the alternatives. Another reason that couples have cited is that mediation and collaboration are much easier on their children.

When a judge makes child custody, visitation and support decisions in a litigated divorce, he or she is obliged to follow the best interests of the child doctrine. Illinois law provides a few factors for the court to weigh -- the wishes of both parents and the child; the child's relationship with each parent; the child's life at home, in school and in the community; and the health of everyone involved, among other things.

An underlying principle of decisions about the children in mediation and collaborative law is that few understand children better than their own parents. By working on solutions together, the parents can put their energy into figuring out what will be best for the family rather than getting the upper hand in a potentially destructive court battle.

The first thing the parties do in a collaborative divorce is to sign an agreement to commit to the process. The agreement also states that, if the parties cannot agree, the spouses will have to litigate. If a case goes to litigation, both spouses will have to engage new attorneys.

The people at the table are the spouses, their respective collaborative law attorneys and a financial adviser. In some situations, a mental health professional may participate as well. Drawing on the expertise of the team, the couple works through property division, child custody and support and any other issues they are facing.

Says one family law expert who has been through her own collaborative divorce, "There's more of a sense of 'Let's get this done so we don't ruin our children." Compared to litigation, the collaborative process allows parents to put their children first and to resolve issues more quickly and more amicably.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "Can your divorce be collaborative?" Jen Weigel, July 10, 2012

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