Mediation services are designed to help disputants resolve their disputes without the time, expense and emotional stress of court litigation.

In mediation, a neutral person acts as an intermediary in helping disputants come to their own mutually acceptable agreement. While legal disputes are typically mediated, mediation is also useful for informal business, neighborhood and family conflicts. In fact, many courts require litigants to participate in alternative dispute resolution before the court can hear their case.

A mediator typically is a lawyer or trained social worker. Mediators use specialized communication and problem-solving skills that can help disputants separate their feelings from the issues and focus on constructive interaction.

The mediator’s role is to facilitate the discussion by identifying key issues, clarifying those issues and creating opportunities for the parties to develop solutions that are acceptable to them. A mediator may meet privately with one or both disputants in a process called caucuses to discern the underlying facts and issues. The information revealed in these private meetings is confidential unless agreed to otherwise by the parties.

A mediation can result in a signed settlement agreement or a non-binding agreement. A signed settlement agreement often can be incorporated into a court judgment. A non-binding agreement generally has no legal effect. However, even if a dispute is settled, the underlying issues or dynamics that led to the dispute may continue to exist. Mediation services are provided by community, business and private providers. Many communities and counties provide free or low-fee mediation for civil disputes involving neighbors, housing, small businesses or consumer concerns. A community program might be run by volunteers or trained local professionals.

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