Going to court can be costly. Fortunately, there may be another way to solve your legal dispute. By working with a mediator, parties can usually resolve their dispute without the time and expense of litigation.
What Is a Mediator?
A mediator is a trained, impartial professional who assists disputants in reaching a settlement outside of court. Their role is to help the parties resolve the problem by discussing their dispute, identifying their cases’ strengths and weaknesses, and coming to a satisfactory solution.
Unlike a judge, a mediator has no authority to compel a decision. The mediation process depends on both parties agreeing to a decision.
Is a mediator a lawyer?
In most U.S. states, mediators must go through specific training but may not need a law degree. However, the most effective mediators are often former judges or lawyers. If you wish to have your own lawyer present, you can bring them with you to your mediation session, but this usually isn’t required.
How Does Mediation Work?
Mediation is a multi-stage process in which the parties voluntarily meet to come to a resolution. There are no spectators, and the mediator cannot repeat or report whatever is said during mediation, even as a voluntary witness in a trial. Before the session, the parties must sign an agreement to mediate that reminds them of the session’s confidentiality.
The mediation process can either happen with the disputants in the same room or virtually through a platform like Zoom. Mediation is not as formal as a trial or arbitration, but there are still distinct stages:
- The mediator’s opening statement: The mediator introduces everyone present, explains the rules of mediation, and encourages each side to work cooperatively and come to a solution to which everyone can agree.
- The disputants’ opening statements: Each party takes their turn to describe their side of the dispute, including financial and other consequences. Each side is not allowed to interrupt while the other is speaking.
- Joint discussion: If the participants are receptive to the idea, the mediator may encourage them to respond to the opening statements and further define the issues.
- Private caucuses: Next, each party goes to a separate room. The mediator discusses the strengths and weaknesses of each position with one party at a time in private. Then, the mediator goes back and forth between the two rooms to exchange offers during the allowed time.
- Joint negotiation: In some cases, the mediator may bring the parties back together for direct negotiation. This step does not always occur.
- Mediation closure: If the parties have reached an agreement by the end of the session, the mediator will put the main provisions in writing for each side to sign. If there was no agreement, the mediator will help the parties determine whether meeting a second time or continuing negotiations would be effective.
In most cases, the mediation process produces an agreement. If mediation does not resolve the case, either side can choose to file a lawsuit or continue pursuing the current case.
While mediation is often much faster than a lawsuit, the length of time it takes to solve the problem depends on the complexity of the case. The most straightforward cases may resolve with a half-day session, while more complicated cases may require a full day of mediation and negotiations that continue long after the mediation ends.
Mediation is not the right resolution method for every case. The goal of mediation is to come to a solution that both parties agree on, so it generally does not work in situations where the parties will not agree on a settlement or when uncovering the truth is an integral part of the case. You may also want to avoid mediation in situations where there is an imbalance of power, such as in cases of physical, emotional, or economic abuse.
What Kinds of Cases Can Be Resolved With Mediation?
Mediation is an option for most non-criminal matters and some nonviolent criminal cases. It is often used for situations such as:
- Personal injury cases
- Real estate disputes
- Small business disputes
- Breach of contract disputes
- Family law issues such as custody
- As an alternative to divorce litigation
How Much Does a Mediator Cost?
The cost of mediation can vary considerably depending on the mediator’s training and experience. However, the expense is usually significantly lower than the overall cost of litigation. The process also tends to be faster since the parties can schedule mediation within a few weeks of their decision to mediate.
How to Find a Mediator
Many people find a mediator through word-of-mouth recommendations, such as by asking a friend, attorney, or therapist. You can also find potential mediators by searching a directory or mediator membership organization such as the Washington Mediation Association.
Before hiring a mediator, be sure to check their training and experience and ask past mediation clients about their experiences. Ideally, you should come up with a list of several potential mediators, check references, and interview each mediator about their experience, ethics, and ongoing education before deciding who to hire.
If you are looking for a mediator in Snohomish County, reach out to the Anderson Hunter Law Firm today. We have several highly qualified mediators who can mediate your dispute. You can also explore our past blog posts to learn more about our approach to mediation or find answers to mediation FAQs.