When you are involved in a dispute that seems to be headed for court, there is another option. Mediation services offer a neutral third party to help the parties in a dispute define issues and explore solutions. They are often less expensive than a trial and provide a quicker turnaround. Mediation services can also be confidential and avoid public disclosure of sensitive business and personal information that may be introduced in a court case. They can also help preserve important relationships that might be damaged in a court process.
Generally, mediation is held in out-of-court locations such as conference rooms, community facilities or libraries. Sessions are usually scheduled to fit the schedules of all involved. Many community organizations and non-profits provide mediation services for free or at a reduced cost. If you are referred to mediation through the courts you are likely to pay a fee, but these fees are determined on a sliding scale depending on your income.
The mediation process is often much less formal than a court proceeding and offers a flexible, informal approach to conflict resolution. This allows the parties to be more engaged in the process and often more creative in their solution making. It also helps prevent the escalation of emotions that can sometimes lead to misunderstanding and hostility.
One of the most significant benefits is that it is voluntary. If either party is not willing to participate in mediation, it will not be effective. In addition, if there is ongoing or past violence in the relationship, mediation is not recommended. The mediator will work with the individuals in the dispute to determine if they are ready to move forward and will only continue with the process if both parties feel that it is productive.
A good mediator will take the time to get to know each of the individuals in a dispute and will focus on learning about their needs, interests, priorities and concerns. They will then help the parties reach a settlement that will meet their individual goals and needs.
In most cases, the participants in the dispute decide what terms of a settlement will be acceptable to them. This means that the outcome of mediation is often more satisfying than a judge’s or jury’s decision, which may not address all of the parties’ concerns.
When choosing a mediator, look for someone who is experienced and has the interpersonal skills to facilitate open communication. Ask about their style and experience and schedule an initial consultation, ideally with your spouse or partner, to see how comfortable you both feel with the mediator. You will be spending a lot of time with your mediator and you want to be sure that you are both happy with them. During the session, listen for how well the mediator reflects your comments back to you and if they check in with you regularly to make sure they understand your perspective. In addition, listen for the tone of their voice and whether they are speaking respectfully to you.