Often, when you really need to resolve a dispute with a neighbor, employee or family member, the legal process only makes things worse. Mediation is an effective form of alternative dispute resolution, allowing you to work cooperatively to find a mutually beneficial outcome. A few states mandate mediation in certain circumstances, but it is generally a voluntary process.
The key difference between mediation and arbitration relates to the role that mediators and arbitrators assume. An arbitrator functions much like a judge, taking testimony, evaluating evidence and rendering a decision. Conversely, a mediator is a facilitator, an intermediary between the parties. The goal of the mediator is to help the parties work together to identify and implement a solution that works for everyone. Because the outcome is not dependent on the facts or legal arguments, the mediator typically does not consider physical evidence or take testimony from witnesses. Only the parties to the mediation will participate.
The mediation process offers many benefits over litigation, including:
Once the parties have elected to use mediation to settle their differences, they select a mediator, and agree to the time and place for the mediation (often the mediator’s office or some other neutral location). The mediation process then moves through the following stages:
If the parties agree on a solution, the mediator summarizes the agreement in writing. Each party signs the written agreement and may have an attorney review it. The parties also may create and sign a legally binding contract. If the parties do not reach an agreement, the mediator reviews the progress made, and the parties can meet again at another time, arbitrate or go to court. Civil disputes commonly resolved through mediation are contracts, consumer- and car-accident claims, employment claims (e.g., wrongful termination, discrimination, sexual harassment, ending a partnership), landlord–tenant disputes, real estate disputes and family law disputes. To see Resources for Further Research on Arbitration and Mediation, click here.
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