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Mediation Cases: What Cases are Eligible for Mediation?

Mediation is a private and informal method of conflict resolution that doesn't rely on a legal judgment issued by a judge or jury. It is one form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). Arbitration is another common type of ADR. The parties involved in mediation meet with a neutral third party to reach a mutually agreeable solution.

Parties aren't forced to agree to a solution in mediation. Instead, the mediator facilitates communication to help the parties reach a mutual agreement. It's an informal process. Often, lawyers are not present, and the disputing parties typically represent themselves in the mediation process. A successful mediation requires both parties to approach the process in good faith.

This article provides an overview of cases suitable for mediation. See FindLaw's Mediation section for additional information.

What Types of Cases Can Be Mediated?

Mediation is available in most civil cases. Some nonviolent criminal cases, like those involving verbal harassment, can also be resolved through mediation. Claims not involving a clear legal issue are also good candidates for mediation.

For example, a dispute with a neighbor over an encroaching bush or the brightness of their outdoor lights doesn't merit a lawsuit. In this situation, mediation can end the conflict with a resolution acceptable to both parties.

Mediation cases often involve conflict arising in:

  • Divorce and child custody issues
  • Disputes between family members
  • Disputes between neighbors or business partners
  • Disputes between landlords and tenants
  • Labor unions and management relations

In some jurisdictions, a court may mandate mediation before any court hearing or trial. This may occur in family court dealing with child custody issues. It may also happen with small claims cases and disagreements with neighbors. Mediation is generally not an appropriate referral when a family law case involves domestic violence.

Benefits of Mediation

In some situations, mediation may be preferable to filing a lawsuit. Mediation provides the following advantages:

  • Confidentiality: There are a few exceptions, but what the parties say during mediation, along with any submissions, is confidential and not subject to future use in a lawsuit. Court cases, in contrast, are matters of public record.
  • Lower Costs: Generally, mediation costs substantially less than attorney fees and court costs from a contested hearing or trial.
  • Faster Resolution: Lawsuits may take years to result in a court ruling. Mediation saves time. It can take as little as a few hours or a few sessions.
  • The Parties Decide: The parties in mediation, not a judge or jury, are the decision-makers. The case settles when they reach an acceptable agreement.
  • The Parties Communicate Directly: Rather than communicating through lawyers, the parties speak directly to each other as part of the problem-solving process.

What Occurs During Mediation

In most mediation cases, the following occurs:

  • Introduction: The mediator explains the rules and processes involved in a mediation session.
  • Statements by the Parties: Each party has the opportunity to describe the dispute without interruption from the other party.
  • Identification of the Dispute: The mediator will ask the parties questions to gain a better understanding of the conflict.
  • Private Caucuses: The mediator may conduct private meetings with the parties to better understand each party's side and assess possible solutions.
  • Negotiation: The mediator will help the parties reach an agreeable solution during a mediation conference.
  • Written Agreement: If the parties reach a resolution, the mediator may put the mediation agreement in writing and ask the parties to sign it. In many states, a court can uphold these settlement agreements.

The parties generally split the cost of a private mediator's fees. Additionally, a party can move to disqualify a mediator for good cause. The court cannot force parties to agree. But, the court can consider sanctions for a party that fails to appear for court-ordered mediation.

You Don't Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer's Help

Meeting with legal counsel with mediation training can help you better understand mediation as a dispute resolution process. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer who can offer legal advice and educate you about mediation programs and mediation services. Get answers to frequently asked questions (FAQ).

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