Illinois Divorce Mediation: Non-Attorney Mediators Pose Risk

Nov 12, 2015, 08:35 ET from Attorney David Wolkowitz

CHICAGO, Nov. 12, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- "People interested in divorce mediation in Illinois should be wary of non-attorney mediators in private practice," said Illinois Divorce Attorney Dave Wolkowitz. "In my opinion, many lack sufficient legal knowledge and mislead their clients."

Attorney Wolkowitz, who is an Illinois divorce mediator and operates the website, thinks Illinois law doesn't sufficiently protect people seeking to mediate an Illinois divorce.

In Illinois, mediation is governed by the Uniform Mediation Act. The Act defines a mediator as "an individual who conducts a mediation."

"No one defines a brain surgeon as anyone who cuts a head open," said Attorney Wolkowitz. "So why, in Illinois, can any random person claim to be a divorce mediator?"

"Non-attorney divorce mediators can produce some shockingly problematic so-called 'mediation agreements' which can produce long-term, post-divorce nightmares," he said.  

Attorney Rhonda Stuart, an Illinois divorce mediator in Skokie, Illinois, agrees.

"I was retained to review a marital settlement agreement drafted by a popular non-attorney mediator," Attorney Stuart said. "It was problematic. A marital settlement agreement can only bind the two spouses. Despite that, the agreement required a third-party to take certain actions in regards to real estate. That won't fly in court because such a provision is unenforceable," she said.

Some mediators may have backgrounds in social work, therapy, counseling, or finance. But Attorney Stuart, who contributes to the website, doesn't believe those backgrounds are enough to best help a couple navigate a divorce.

Attorney Wolkowitz agrees.

"The purpose of mediation is not just to reach an agreement. The agreement should be effective, legally enforceable and minimize future risk." he said. "Social workers, therapists, and financial analysts may have their place. But drafting legal documents for other people isn't one of them. Illinois divorce attorneys have an understanding of the law and courts that is far superior to that of non-attorneys," Attorney Wolkowitz said. "Aside from mediators that work for the various county governments and focus on child-related issues, using non-attorney mediators is risky. Non-attorney mediators cannot represent someone in court, and they should not be drafting entire documents or content that they claim can be used in court."

According to Attorney Wolkowitz, many people seeking divorce mediation in Illinois believe non-attorney mediators will be less expensive than attorneys. But that's not necessarily the case.

"It's a myth that non-attorney mediators are always less expensive than attorneys. And many people need attorneys even after mediation with a non-attorney. Also, mediation can be an unnecessary step on the way to an uncontested divorce in Illinois. Many attorneys handle uncontested divorces for a flat flee which can be more affordable than the cost of mediation with a non-attorney."

Attorneys Wolkowitz and Stuart, who both earned certificates in divorce mediation from Northwestern University, offer in-person and virtual mediation in the Illinois counties of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry, and Will.   

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SOURCE Attorney David Wolkowitz