Programs: Family Mediation Program - 5th Judicial Circuit
Year started: 2006
Neutrals: Those with law or advanced behavioral science degree and court approval.
Eligibility: All child custody and visitation cases.
Pro bono services available?: yes
Local Rule VIII(I) established the 5th Judicial Circuit's Family Mediation Program in December 2006. The program provides mediation services for all cases involving contested child custody and visitation issues.
Under the rule, judges are required to refer all eligible cases to mediation, unless an impediment exists that would limit the parties' ability to participate in the process. Potential impediments may include situations of domestic violence or intimidation, substance abuse or mental illness.
When a case is sent to mediation, the parties are given the option of choosing a mediator from a list of court-approved mediators. To obtain court approval, mediators must possess a law degree, or an advanced degree in a field that deals substantially with marriage, family or interpersonal relationships. Mediators must also complete a 40-hour specialized training program. In addition, mediators must complete at least 10 hours of continuing legal education courses per year, with at least two of those hours devoted to domestic violence. As of October 2007, the 5th Circuit had approved a list of 17 mediators.
These mediators charge a fee for their services, which is paid by the parties. The specific rate is agreed to between the mediator and the parties before the mediation. The court may also designate how the mediation fee should be split between the parties, or whether the case should be considered a reduced fee or indigency case.
Mediation must begin within 45 days of the court referral. Both parties are required to attend each session. Legal counsel, advocates or children involved in the case may also be present if both parties and the mediator agree in advance. If a party fails to attend mediation, the court may issue sanctions for attorney and mediator fees.
If an agreement is reached, the mediator submits a written account of the agreement to the parties and their attorneys. The agreement is not legally binding at this point; it is the parties' responsibility to review the agreement and submit it to the court for final approval. Where there is no settlement, the mediator submits a report to the court saying the mediation has ended, without disclosing information about why no agreement was reached.
The rule also outlines confidentiality requirements for information exchanged during mediation. With few exceptions, mediators and parties may not disclose any written or oral communication made during mediation.
5th Judicial Circuit Court Local Rule VIII(I) - Family Mediation Program
Text of rule: http://courtadr.org/files/IL5thCirRuleVIII-I.pdf
Date adopted: December 1, 2006
Summary: This rule describes the court's mandatory mediation program for child custody and visitation disputes. The rule addresses mediation qualifications, appointment and compensation, as well as guidelines for the scheduling and conduct of mediation sessions.
For more information about this program, contact:
Hon. Tracy Resch
Fifth Judicial Circuit