What Does a Certified Mediator Do?

C. Mitchell

A certified mediator is a professional who arbitrates disputes between individuals or corporations. Mediators help feuding parties come to an agreement without having to go to court. Many jurisdictions around the world encourage mediation as an alternative to trial, but different court systems have different requirements for who may serve as a mediator. A certified mediator is someone who holds mediator certification and is licensed to act as a negotiator within a specific region or court system.

Mediators help arguing individuals or corporations come to an agreement.
Mediators help arguing individuals or corporations come to an agreement.

The bulk of a certified mediator’s job is listening to parties’ disputes. Most of the time, the mediator acts as a neutral go-between, helping each side to come to some sort of consensus or acceptable middle ground. He or she will listen to each party’s grievances, will help each to see the other’s point of view, and hopefully find a solution.

Mediation is reserved for parties who can reach an amicable agreement outside of court. It is most common in foreclosures and uncontested, uncomplicated divorces. The main goal is to help parties reduce costs and legal fees by coming to an out-of-court agreement that can settle their dispute.

Most mediations happen in conference rooms, either in the certified mediator’s office or in the courthouse. Simple disputes can often be solved in little more than an afternoon, but most take several different negotiation sessions to solve. The certified mediator will review all of the parties’ paperwork and will provide a structured space in which the parties can decide on next steps.

Certified mediators will ask parties pointed questions and will challenge negotiation participants to be flexible when it comes to compromises. They can offer potential solutions and usually make suggestions about possible ways forward. In no circumstances is a certified mediator allowed to give legal advice, however.

Mediation often occurs in lieu of courtroom litigation, and most of the time, all agreements reached are legally binding. Just the same, a mediator does not take the place of an attorney. Parties who need legal advice or recommendations on how to proceed from a legal standpoint must usually hire lawyers and pursue a traditional trial.

This is not to say that certified mediators cannot also be attorneys. Many are, but they must separate their roles as counselor and as neutral facilitator to be successful. Most people who pursue certification have some familiarity with either the law or conflict resolution and are usually trained in either the legal process, dispute management, or both.

Different jurisdictions have different requirements with respect to what it takes to earn a mediation certificate. A college degree is a prerequisite in most places, as is some sort of formal dispute resolution training. This can range from a two-week course at the courthouse to a semester or year-long accreditation program offered at the university level. Sometimes, specific training in the law or dispute resolution can replace mandatory training, but not always.

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