What is Mediation? How does it work?

In mediation, the people experiencing a conflict (the “parties”) work together to find resolution to the conflict. It is a voluntary process in which the parties agree to meet with a neutral third party called a mediator who facilitates a conversation through a series of guiding questions and other techniques. The mediator’s job is to help the parties discover ways to meet their needs.

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Irate? Mediate!

Potential outcomes of a mediated conflict resolution process may include the following:

  • Each party better understands the conflict and their own goals in relation to it.
  • Each party learns new ways to communicate and problem-solve.
  • If the conflict involves parties in an ongoing relationship, the parties redefine their relationship to address current and future realities. (For instance, divorcing parents have an ongoing relationship as co-parents who will continue to work together.)
  • The parties, with the help of the mediator, create an agreement designed to resolve the conflict that each can live with. (Please note: The mediator cannot guarantee that an agreement results from the mediation process.)

How long does mediation take?

Mediation is a process that unfolds as the parties and the mediator work together. As such, it’s difficult to estimate how long the process might take. Sometimes, one mediation session results in a satisfactory conclusion to a conflict. At other times, several or many mediation sessions are recommended.

Getting started

The mediation process starts when a person in conflict contacts the mediator. If both or all people involved in the conflict (the “parties”) agree to explore the option of mediation, the mediator schedules an “intake interview” with each party to get to know them, learn about the conflict, and discuss the change that each party would like to see happen regarding the conflict. The intake interview usually takes place over the phone, and it can be done via email. A phone call is preferred because the mediator and each party can communicate in real time and get to know each other better through a verbal conversation.

If the parties agree to mediate, the mediator sets up a mediation session, which usually lasts about 2 hours. Shorter and longer times may be more appropriate, so the parties and the mediator will decide on a timeframe together.

Please note: Mediation is always a voluntary process. As such, all parties to a conflict must agree to mediate in order for a mediated process to occur. In addition, any party in mediation can decide to end the mediation session at any time for any reason. Please note that Jennifer will charge a pro-rated fee for time spent in mediation.

Involving other people

Sometimes, the mediator will suggest that a party in conflict consider consulting with other professionals (besides the mediator) to enhance the mediation process and move toward resolution. Such professionals might include attorneys, therapists, financial experts, and other people with special skills and knowledge who can help one or both parties gather information that is useful in creating an agreement.

In addition, a party may decide that they would like to invite a support person into a mediation session. A support person is someone whose presence is reassuring to the party.

Additional people who attend mediation sessions are present to offer information, advice, and/or support. Only the parties to the conflict may create an agreement during mediation. If a party would like to bring a professional person or a support person into a mediation session, it is essential that the party discuss this with the mediator beforehand. In addition, the party must get the consent of the other party.

How do you know when you’re “done” with mediation?

Mediation can be concluded when one party decides to end the process (remember, it’s always voluntary), a mutually satisfactory agreement is reached, or the mediator suggests that the mediation process has reached its conclusion.

There are times when the mediator ends the process before one party or the other feels that it should end. This might happen if (1) one of the parties is hostile or aggressive, which makes the process unsafe and/or unproductive, (2) the parties cannot or will not work together to find resolution, and/or (3) there is a serious power imbalance between the parties which could undermine mutual agreement.

Often, it becomes clear to the parties and the mediator when the process should be concluded because an agreement is reached or the process comes to a logical conclusion in some other way.

A final agreement

If the parties reach an agreement, the mediator will draft a document that records the agreement. This document is reviewed by all parties and revised until all parties can abide by it. The mediator then writes the final agreement and each party signs it, creating a mutually-accepted understanding of how the parties have decided to handle the conflict. The mediator does not enforce the agreement – this is a document for the parties only, and they decide how they will use it.

The mediation agreement can be taken to a judge in a court-based, legal action. If the judge feels that the agreement represents the interests

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of all parties, and if the agreement upholds pertinent laws, the judge may use the agreement as the basis of a court order.