A mediator is a professional conflict resolver. Mediators provide an alternative to litigation as a method of resolving a wide range of disagreements. The use of mediators has increased dramatically in the past decade, as more people seek to avoid long, expensive legal options. Mediators can be used to resolve a wide range of issues and disputes, covering everything except criminal cases.
There are two main areas of focus for a professional mediator: business or civil disputes and divorce court disputes. Although the details differ, the overall process is the same. Courts are increasingly directing simple civil and divorce cases to mediation as a first step before litigation. This process saves times, effort, and valuable resources.
A mediator is contacted when both sides agree that they want to avoid court, but need an independent third party to resolve the issue. Both parties sign a binding agreement to follow the decision made by the mediator. Each side provides the mediator with a written summary of the core issues and the resolution process to date. The mediator schedules a meeting in a neutral location and determines who should attend. A series of meetings is held to find common ground, discuss the desired end result for both sides, and negotiate an agreement.
In a business dispute, the mediator may start with a statement of accepted facts. He or she can then work down the issues and attempt to find a middle ground that is acceptable to each side. The process usually takes several weeks, but is much faster than a full court trial. At the end of the process, a legally binding agreement or contract is signed. The mediation process is not suitable in cases of wrongful death or where there may be criminal charges, but is very useful for the vast majority of other types of disputes.
In a divorce or family court case, the mediator follows a similar process. The only major difference is that rules of conduct are usually provided to each client and signed in advance. These rules outline acceptable behavior, how to address the other party, and how to ask for a recess in the proceedings. Many divorce and family lawyers actively encourage their clients to try mediation first. The lawyers participate in the process and work together with the client to reach an equitable and acceptable solution.
There is no formal criterion to become a professional mediator. A large number of successful mediators are trained lawyers, who have taken additional courses in mediation and dispute resolution. Mediator selection can be referral-based or a service offered by the law office. In certain states, mediators can be certified for a specific type of court based on a combination of experience and education.