What is mediation?
Mediation is a private and voluntary process undertaken by two or more parties in conflict. In mediation, the parties themselves try to find a consensual resolve to their dispute, with the assistance of a third party (the mediator). Mediations can often be arranged on relatively short notice. The parties pick the mediator, and agree on the time and place to do their work. In this respect, mediation offers many advantages over litigation. Court cases often take 1-2 years (or more) and the parties have no influence over which Judge will preside.
In practice, mediation involves a meeting between the parties in a safe and respectful environment. The meeting is “hosted” by a mediator, who will use various professional skills, tools, and techniques to try to assist the parties in finding their own solution—-a solution that is agreeable to both of them. The mediator does not judge the case or decide what will happen: the parties do that. No record is kept of the “going’s on”, but if the parties are able to reach a resolution at the end, an Agreement, or “Minutes” describing the terms of the settlement, will be prepared and signed.
The mediation can occur for an hour, several hours, or several days, depending on circumstances. Most family law mediations take the better part of one day, but some take longer. Where multiple issues are at stake (parenting, support, property division, and other topics) it’s hard to cover everything in a few hours, but some cases are simpler than others. Many personal injury mediations, by contrast, either settle or fail in a half day, but there are exceptions there too. Each case is different.
The mediator is, in British Columbia, accredited, and usually has some background in law, social work, psychology, or counselling. Your mediator’s credentials should be described on his or her website, or available on request.
Mediation isn’t for everyone: where there is danger (violence) or a significant credibility or disclosure problem, the parties may not be suitable candidates for the process. In such cases, the dispute may require intervention by the Court. Happily, those cases seem to be in the minority.
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The mediation process is easily confused with other methods of dispute resolution. Some of the other options include the following:
Negotiation is also a voluntary process, but it’s undertaken by the parties “in person”, usually in private, without outside assistance.
In this process, (which is also voluntary and more private than open court), a third party decides the case for the parties, after hearing their views and considering the evidence presented.
Everyone knows this one—-it’s the court process—-with a Judge deciding the case, in “open court”, and then rendering a binding decision.