Mediation is a structured process for resolving a dispute out of court. While a number of states require parties to mediate their dispute before going to trial, mediation generally is voluntary.
The main difference between mediation and arbitration is a mediator does not act as a judge and does not render a legally binding decision, as an arbitrator does. In mediation, the emphasis is on two individuals, two companies or multiple parties working together with the help of a trained, neutral mediator to agree on a solution.
Mediation has similar benefits to arbitration, including:
Once the parties have elected to use mediation to settle their differences, a mediator is selected and the parties either meet at a mutually acceptable time and place or have the mediator act as a liaison. The mediation process then moves through the following stages:
If the parties agree on a solution, the mediator summarizes the agreement in writing. Each party signs the written agreement and may have an attorney review it. The parties also may create and sign a legally binding contract.
If the parties do not reach an agreement, the mediator reviews the progress made, and the parties can meet again at another time, arbitrate or go to court.
Civil disputes commonly resolved through mediation are contracts, consumer- and car-accident claims, employment claims (e.g., wrongful termination, discrimination, sexual harassment, ending a partnership), landlord–tenant disputes, real estate disputes and family law disputes.