Mediation, also known as arbitration, is a method of resolving disagreements. It is also sometimes referred to as alternative dispute resolution. It is used as a tool whereby people can attempt to work out their differences with little or no court intervention. Clearly, mediation will not work in all cases, but it can be an effective tool when used appropriately.
A mediator should be a professional, neutral party who can aid in conflict resolution. The parties involved in a dispute may agree to seek mediation rather than going through the hassle, time, and expense of litigation, or it may be ordered by a court if a claim has already been filed. Many courts prefer mediation since an independent settlement can often be reached, freeing up court time for other matters. The court will ultimately have to approve the agreement, but this is still less costly and less time consuming than hearing the entire case and determining a settlement.
The goal of the mediator is to help the parties arrive at a compromise. This process can be successful, if both parties are willing to work together, and the proposed settlement is a fair one. Mediation may not work if the process seems unfair or coercive or the mediator appears to be biased.
There are also cases where the aggrieved party is more concerned with being heard or forcing the alleged offender to admit culpability than with obtaining a settlement. Many times mediated agreements allow the defendant to conceal wrongdoing as well as concealing the amount of the settlement, the latter of which can be an indicator of guilt where the sum is large. Mediation may also mean closed records instead of public records. In such cases, where people are more concerned with having their day in court, mediation may not be ideal.
With family issues, such as divorce, mediation appears to have a fairly high success rate. Couples who mediate agreements spend less time and less money finalizing their divorces. Their issues may be dealt with in more detail as well. A mediator may have more time to spend on each case, while a court has a docket filled with cases that must be completed quickly. A mediator may also be more inclined to listen to sensitive, emotional issues and try to help sort them out, where a court is more concerned with strict legal issues.