Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed June 20, 2016
The process of going to court to settle a dispute can be expensive, stressful, and frustrating. This is especially the case with disputes over small amounts of money or involving issues where it is in the parties’ best interests to come to an amicable solution. Rather than taking a dispute to court, many court cases may be eligible for mediation. Unlike a court trial or arbitration, there is no judge or other factfinder that issues a ruling. A mediator instead helps the two parties come to a mutually agreeable solution.
How Does Mediation Work?
When two parties are involved in a civil dispute, the best solution might be the one that they both agree is fair. This is mediation’s goal. In mediation, the two parties come together to discuss terms that they would agree to as a way to settle their dispute. The mediator guides the parties through this process, helps the parties understand each other’s perspectives, and provides advice on the bargaining process.
Unlike court cases and arbitration, where the parties may be bound by law to follow a ruling they don’t agree with, parties in mediation only become bound by what they agree is fair. The mediator cannot impose any terms on a party that the party does not accept.
Before deciding whether mediation is right for your dispute, you should take into consideration other aspects of the mediation process, such as how to find the right mediator and what kinds of solutions mediation can and can’t proffer.
Why Choose Mediation?
Parties might choose mediation over litigation for a variety of reasons. Mediation often offers the parties faster results at a much lower cost than hiring attorneys to bring formal lawsuits would. Additionally, mediation allows the parties to control the solution, rather than relying on a judge to make a ruling that neither party agrees to.
A party might decide not to pursue mediation when a compromise is not in the party’s best interest. When an injured party feels that the other party is completely at fault, the injured party may not want to negotiate through mediation.
What Kinds of Cases Can Be Mediated?
Mediation is usually available for many non-criminal cases. Mediation is often the best choice for cases that either do not involve large sums of money or do not involve substantial legal issues. These disputes can range from disputes between business partners to arguments between neighbors. Because these disputes can usually be resolved through better communication rather than expensive legal wrangling, mediation can offer a less expensive alternative to court.
Some states require child custody disputes to go through mediation first before a party can bring a legal claim in court. Parents are given the opportunity to come up with a child custody plan together, rather than having a judge impose one that may not be best for the child or the parents.
Can I Mediate a Criminal Case?
Mediation is not used in criminal cases. However, negotiating a plea bargain is similar to mediation in that the defendant agrees to plead guilty or no contest to a criminal charge in exchange for the prosecutor dropping other charges, reducing the recommended sentence for the crime, or ignoring certain facts that could bring worse repercussions to the defendant.
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