Small claim mediation is a non-adversarial dispute resolution process used for small claims cases. It gives the opposing parties in a small claims case the opportunity to settle their disputes out of court. Small claims mediation aims to allow the opposing parties in a court case to create their own solution to their dispute rather than having a judge hand down a decision. This type of dispute resolution can be accomplished before a small claims court case has been filed or after one has already begun.
When opposing parties go to court over a small claims dispute, the court process is typically an adversarial one. With small claims mediation, however, the process may be dramatically different. The parties work together to create an agreement that both sides are willing to accept. Often, settling a case in small claims mediation is much easier than battling things out in court. Parties to cases are often more motivated to reach a settlement because they have more control over the outcome of the case.
Parties to a small claims case are not completely on their own when they enter small claims mediation. Instead, mediation sessions are usually facilitated by a third party who is referred to as a mediator. This person typically remains neutral throughout the mediation session. His job is to help the parties keep the discussion and negotiations well focused on reaching an agreement.
Once the parties have come to an agreement, the mediator typically has it drafted into written form. Each party then signs the agreement. In some jurisdictions, a judge goes on to review the mediated agreement. If the judge approves of the agreement, it typically becomes a court order. Judges tend to approve mediated agreements, but may require changes if any of the terms contradict the laws of the jurisdiction.
Small claims mediation sessions often last 30 minutes to two hours. Some sessions may last longer than this, however. In many cases, it is possible to resolve a small claims dispute during a single mediation session. In other cases, however, parties to a dispute may need more than one session to reach a satisfactory agreement.
Some jurisdictions may offer free mediation to people who are involved in a small claims dispute. Other jurisdictions may require the parties to pay for their mediation sessions. When parties do have to pay for small claims mediation, the fees are typically low.