What Is Mediation?
A mediator is someone who literally stands in the middle to help others resolve a dispute. Most people are called upon to mediate small disputes at various points in their lives. However, mediation as a profession is often quite different from what most people are familiar with. Professional mediation is a demanding, difficult job that requires special mediation training and lots of practice to do well. It also requires a person who can set aside their own beliefs about a conflict and concentrate on what the people involved are willing and able to do.
Professional mediators do not decide who is right and who is wrong. Nor do they decide what the people should do about their problem. Instead, mediators work hard to create a safe environment where people can work together to gain a better mutual understanding of their situation. If necessary, the mediator can shuttle back and forth between different rooms if the people are so angry that they are unable to be respectful while in each other’s presence. Mediators also provide lots of assistance in helping people discuss possible options which might solve the problem. The goal is to ultimately create a solution together that is acceptable to all who are directly involved.
Benefits of Mediation
Both the participation in mediation and the making of agreements are always voluntary, even though people might be ordered by a court or contract to try mediation for a period of time. Another big advantage of mediation is that the conversations are confidential. This means that if no agreement is reached, the ideas discussed in the mediation sessions generally cannot be raised as evidence in a future court proceeding. Mediators are also not permitted to talk publicly about what happened in a mediation, except in unusual circumstances. However, written agreements that result from mediation are legally binding and they can be enforced when approved by the Court.
The biggest advantage to mediation is that the people with the dispute are always completely in charge of creating the solution. This is as it should be, since they are the real experts when it comes to knowing what the problem is and what it will take to solve it. The mediator is simply there to make the discussions respectful and more complete and efficient. And mediation is usually much less expensive and much less formal than seeking assistance through litigation. One more thing to remember is that mediation is usually successful in improving the relationships between the parties. This can be very important when people still need to live or work closely with each other after the conflict ends.
When To Use Mediation
Mediation may be very useful whenever two or more people are facing a difficult conflict and they are unable to work things out on their own. It can also be extremely helpful when attorneys have been consulted or hired and even after a law suit has been filed. It is very important for people involved in legal struggles to have independent legal advice, but it is very rarely necessary for people to actually go to court. In fact, less than 2% of all cases filed in the court system actually go to a trial. Most are either dropped in frustration or settled without a court judgment. Many times, the attorneys involved in the case are able to settle the dispute between themselves, but often this means that not all of the issues important to the people in conflict are addressed or solved. Once a proposed agreement has been reached in mediation, it is often a good idea for each party to have it reviewed by their own attorney, provided the attorneys are understanding and supportive of the mediation process.
Finding A Mediator
So how do you find a mediator and how do you know if you have found a good one? Good mediators should have at least 36 hours of special mediation training. Most of the best mediators will have much more training, and they will also be certified by a professional mediation association such as the Washington Mediation Association, the Association of Washington Dispute Resolution Centers, the Academy of Family Mediators, or other state and national mediation organizations. While certification through one of these organizations is never a guarantee of competence, it does provide some assurance that the mediator’s training and experience has been reviewed by someone who understands what it takes to be a good mediator.
So if you are thinking of working with a certain mediator, you should ask them about their training and whether they are certified. You should also ask them if they mediate the type of case you are involved in, and you should ask about their mediation style. Above all, they should not give you the impression that they might try to pressure you into an agreement or that they will function as a lawyer while mediating. It is always best to get legal advice from someone other than the mediator, even if the mediator is also a lawyer. And also, if you are a low income person, you should ask if they offer a sliding fee scale.
Lists of Mediators
You can find a list of WMA certified mediators on the Find A Mediator page of this web site. WMA certified mediators are highlighted. To learn about the qualifications necessary for WMA certification (one of the more stringent mediator certifications in the country), see the How to Certify page. You can also find additional directories of mediators through some of the other web sites on the Links page. Another way to find mediators is by looking in the local Yellow Pages telephone directory under Mediation or under Attorneys/Mediation. Your local Superior Court Clerk’s Office may also keep a list of local mediators.
Starting the Mediation Process
Once you find a mediator you want to work with, briefly discuss your dispute with him or her. If both of you want to go ahead, the mediator will contact the other person or persons involved and try to persuade them to try the process. If they are also willing to mediate, the mediator will set a convenient time and place for the first session. Usually a session will last 1-2 hours and several sessions may be necessary. Don’t be discouraged if progress seems slow at first. It takes awhile for everyone to feel comfortable with the process. Remember, if you are dissatisfied with the process or the mediator, you can withdraw from mediation at any time with no penalties. However, with the investment of a little patience and time, mediation usually proves to be the right choice!