Let’s Take It Outside: Resolving Conflict Outside of the Courtroom

July 20, 2016

It’s hard to come to a mutual agreement when you’re fighting about an emotionally charged topic. Especially if that topic is child custody with a former spouse.

Mike and Kelly created a parenting schedule when they first got divorced, but that plan began to erode over time, as did their communication. Kelly prohibited Mike from seeing their daughters on school nights because he didn’t make the girls do their homework when he was with them. Wanting to explore his options, Mike opened a case for mediation with the Center for Conflict Resolution.

The mediator began the session by helping the parties determine what specific topics they wanted to address. Kelly thought it was irresponsible parenting that Mike would not help the girls with their homework. Mike was insulted that he could only see his daughters a few evenings a week and felt it was a waste of his limited time with them if he spent it watching them do worksheets. Also, he wasn’t a native English speaker, and he wasn’t always confident he could help with homework.

They spent four hours with the CCR mediator that culminated with a plan that satisfied them both: Mike would see his daughters during the week and make sure they did their homework, and they created a back-up plan for evenings when Mike was unsure about the homework. Additionally, they made a plan for how they wanted to communicate with each other moving forward.

Mediation is a way for people to resolve a problem and heal relationships in a meaningful way—a way that wouldn’t happen if they just went through the court process. By allowing people to talk in depth about their conflict, mediation can shorten or eliminate litigation in court, thus saving clients—especially the unrepresented—time, money, and peace of mind.

Click to see recent CCR clients tell their story

CCR is the only provider of free mediation services in Chicago and one of the many outstanding organizations you are supporting through the Investing in Justice Campaign. Founded in 1979 with the support of the CBA Young Lawyers Section, CCR works in a wide range of areas such as juvenile justice, foreclosure and other Chancery matters, adult and minor guardianship, eviction, and general disputes between neighbors or community residents. Each year, CCR handles nearly 2,000 cases, helps more than 5,000 clients manage and resolve conflict, and trains more than 500 people in mediation and conflict management.

The organization runs 20 different mediation programs located in the Daley Center and in all of the suburban courthouses in Cook County. CCR takes referrals onsite at courthouses and appointments at its home office. Most small claims sessions last up to an hour, while more complex issues such as divorce or guardianship can take up to four hours. CCR often collaborates with other organizations, such as an eviction-specific partnership with LAF at the Markham Courthouse and the Circuit Court of Cook County’s Mortgage Foreclosure Mediation Program.

But what if one party doesn’t show up to mediation, or refuses to participate? CCR recently launched One Party sessions to help willing parties explore ways to approach conflict, walk through potential options, and leave with some clear next steps in mind.

Ideally, a mediation session concludes with a resolution that the mediator puts through a “reality test” before writing up.

“It helps clients see if, in the real world, this solution will meet their needs and if they can follow through on it,” said Cassie Lively, CCR’s executive director. “Less than three percent of the time do our clients reach an agreement that doesn’t work out.”

CCR utilizes around 140 active volunteers, a third of whom are attorneys. Some volunteers have even been with the organization for over 30 years! Recently, CCR expanded its volunteer base by offering customized trainings to two major law firms.

Cassie’s ultimate goal is to have CCR volunteers in every courtroom in Cook County in cases that are appropriate for mediation—a goal that’s less than a dozen courtrooms away. She would also like the organization to be able to do more work in the communities, particularly with schools, police departments, and other nonprofit organizations. CCR holds mediation skills trainings for the public several times a year, and conflict management and communications skills workshops for universities, law firms, and other entities. The organization has also pushed its outreach efforts to educate people about the benefits of mediation.

“We often hear we are Chicago’s best-kept secret, and we don’t want to be that,” Cassie added.

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