When you think of divorce, your mind may conjure images of angry couples shouting and scowling at each other in a courtroom. You might close your eyes and see a stern, dispassionate judge waiting to slam her gavel and decide your fate and those of your ex and children. It’s a stressful scene. It’s enough to make the stomach churn. And it’s rarely necessary.

Many Illinois divorces settle outside the courtroom. Even when divorcing couples need the court to resolve their disagreements over some issues, they may manage to resolve others without the court’s interference. They do this through mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution (ADR).

What is alternative dispute resolution?

In addition to being incredibly stressful, courtroom divorce battles are expensive, inflexible and uncertain. By contrast, mediation and other forms of ADR offer several advantages:

  • They are typically less expensive.
  • They allow couples to find and formalize more creative and personalized solutions.
  • They are usually private whereas court records are public.
  • They let you stay involved in the process throughout.

In ADR, you can express your goals and wishes and compromise where you feel it’s okay. You don’t step away and come back to find how your life has suddenly changed.

What are the different forms of ADR?

There are many possible forms of ADR, and each offers its own advantages and disadvantages. But the Illinois State Bar Association briefly describes the four most common types of ADR:

  • In mediation, couples meet with a neutral third party to address their concerns and look for agreement. The process is non-binding, but the agreements the couples reach can be formalized and filed with the court.
  • Arbitration works much like a courtroom contest, except the process offers more privacy. The arbiter is often a lawyer, and people headed to arbitration often bring lawyers to represent them. There doesn’t need to be a judge or jury. For arbitration to be binding, there must be a contract.
  • Collaborative law functions much like mediation. It is used most often when parents or other people expect to have continued contact with their ex-spouses. Couples and their lawyers meet to review the law and work toward a written agreement.
  • Pre-trial settlement conferences allow judges to meet with couples and their lawyers before they go to trial. The judge serves as a neutral third party to evaluate the strengths of the parties’ cases.

Do you need a lawyer for ADR?

While you can engage in ADR without a lawyer, an experienced family law attorney will make sure you understand the law and how it affects your case. The agreements you reach will be binding, so it’s important to get them right.