How Mediation Works

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January 7, 2014

Clients frequently ask me about mediation. Often, they may not know exactly what mediation means or ‘looks like.’ For example, some clients ask who would be the mediator, where would mediation take place, and will attorneys be present? Most people have not participated in mediation, so there may be a fear of the unknown, especially in the emotional context of a divorce.

Understand that the mediator’s goal is to reach a ‘win-win’ agreement between the parties. This means that the mediator will expect both parties — and their attorneys, if present — to be invested in the mediation and ready to engage in the settlement discussion.

Typically, mediation means the parties to a divorce sit down with a neutral third party, the mediator, in an effort to settle outside of court. The mediator may be a retired judge, another family law attorney, or a non-lawyer who has training in mediation. Regardless, most mediators act as ‘tour guides’ during the mediation. They are neither party’s attorneys, so they cannot give legal advice. Mediators often will not tell a party what they think the person should do, instead presenting options and potential consequences.

Mediation may take place just about anywhere. If the parties have attorneys, mediation will usually take place at one of their offices or the mediator’s office. Whether or not attorneys are involved, the mediation may take place at a neutral third location like a reserved conference room at the courthouse.

Both parties may meet in the same room or in separate rooms with the mediator and attorneys engaging in “shuttle diplomacy,” going back and forth between the parties. At the end of the day, if a resolution is reached, the mediator may ask the parties and their attorneys to gather together in order to confirm the details of the agreement.

Always ask your attorney if you have questions about the mediation process. He or she knows what the process will look like and how you should prepare, which should help relieve any fear of the unknown.