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Illinois Supreme Court updates rules to improve custody mediation

The Illinois Supreme Court announced this week that it has amended the mediation rules in child custody and visitation cases. The amendments will not be effective until Sept. 1, 2013, so counties and judicial circuits have about 60 days to update their internal processes.

The Supreme Court Rules govern both civil and criminal matters. The rules cover procedural matters, judicial conduct and professional conduct for attorneys, as well as areas that the court believes require clarification or special emphasis.

In 2002, the court determined that the state's justice system could handle child custody proceedings better. Both the court and the Legislature had committed themselves to adopting laws and policies that make child custody proceedings expeditious, child-focused and fair to all parties. So the court appointed a special committee to address bottlenecks and procedures that worked against the goals and, in 2006, adopted the group's recommendations as the Rule 900 series.

The court's recent update affects Rule 905, which governs mediation in custody, removal and visitation matters. The special committee understood the importance of mediation in family law matters and made a point to mandate mediation in custody matters. According to the court's official notes to the rules, the mediation process keeps the parents focused on the child, making it esaier for the courts and the families to operate within the "best interests of the child" framework.

The rule directs each judicial circuit to develop a mediation program for all child custody matters. On Sept. 1, cases involving a custodial parent's request to relocate a minor child to another state will go to mediation first. The rule applies to all such cases, even if the parents have never been married.

Another change requires courts to make a "good faith" effort to have an interpreter available during mediation sessions for parents or other parties who struggle with English. The court must also provide a pro bono attorney to qualifying parties.

The third amendment does not affect parents, at least not immediately. Each court must compile data on the cases, including feedback from the parents, and forward quarterly summary reports to the Supreme Court. The data will be aggregated for analysis that, the court hopes, will drive additional improvements to custody mediation.

Source: Washington Times Reporter, "Illinois Supreme Court amends select child custody rules," July 2, 2013

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