Over the past 10 years, there has been a trend by courts all over the country to require litigants to attempt mediation before having a trial or hearing. The courts are stacked up with cases, many of them that can be resolved with the help of professional mediators. Some states require a paragraph in your original lawsuit petition acknowledging your agreement to attempt Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) before you can set foot into the court room.
In response to the public’s need for ADR, mediation centers have sprung up in most communities in the U.S. In certain kinds of cases like civil divorce and child custody, community mediation centers can help families resolve issues without lifelong scars that litigation and lengthy trials often bring.
For consumers who have grievances against businesses such as auto repair shops, or even in the case where two partners in the same business have a disagreement, mediation is often a very inexpensive way to resolve differences where both parties in the dispute feel good about the result.
Most mediation centers around the country are not-for-profit centers and receive partial funding from the local court system. When parties file lawsuits a small portion of the fee to file goes to the mediation center. When mediation is court ordered, the cost to mediate is often waived. When parties agree to mediate without court order, the fees are often very low. In one city, a 3 hour mediation with two well trained volunteer mediators cost $35.00. If one of the parties can’t afford that, then the mediation center will often waive the fee altogether.
Many lawyers are trained in professional mediation as well. They know first hand that you can’t predict the outcome of a court hearing, and believe mediation is a good first alternative to litigating. Lawyer mediators are more expensive than community mediation programs. They don’t take sides and act to first find common understandings between the parties, then take issues one by one to resolution. A legally trained mediator can often help write up an agreement between the parties that is more formal than volunteer community mediators, but you don’t always need them.
Here is a perfect example of where mediation might have worked to resolve disagreements between a set of parties. I live in a 5 year old neighborhood that was built on the very outskirts of my community. Long before my neighborhood ever was developed, there was a business that backs up to the subdivision property line. The business is a wedding and party venue. It is a very beautiful large Victorian style home with a huge area around it. To accommodate large parties, the owner has a 100’ by 50’ tent set up outside where parties can be held in nice weather. Close to the tent is the fence line where my neighborhood grew up. He was here first and caters several large elegant parties on Friday and Saturday nights there. Hundreds of weddings have been held there over the many years he has had his business.