Typically, a mediation session involves six main steps:
- Planning: The mediator organizes the first meeting and plans important details such as the venue, time and those who will attend from either party. These may include lawyers, family members, friends, co-workers or other important witnesses who may affect the case and its outcomes.
- Introductions: Before the formal process of mediation begins, the mediator introduces the parties present, as well as outlines the ground rules each party must follow for a cordial mediation session. A mediator may also present the goals of the session.
- Opening remarks: Once the introductions are complete, both parties have an opportunity to present their cases and perspectives, without interruption of any kind.
- Joint discussion: Once the parties have spoken, the floor is opened to both sides to ask questions, voice concerns and clarify issues to better understand the opposing side. Here, the mediator encourages both parties to listen intently and focus on what the other party is saying without malice or anger. The mediator may also come up with questions and clarifications, if necessary.
- Caucuses: When emotions run high, especially in the case of ex-spouses to be, the mediator can separate the parties in different rooms, also known as caucuses. The two parties may feel more comfortable to speak openly in such an environment, especially if the mediator promises confidentiality.
- Negotiation: Finally, when both sides are satisfied with their presented cases, the mediator facilitates negotiation. Here, both parties come up with proposals and counter-proposals that are presented to the opposite party by the mediator. The mediator encourages both parties to conduct this session cordially and being open to compromise.
What’s the difference between lawyers and mediators?
As mentioned previously, the mediator must be an objective expert who is focused on dispute resolution between the two parties involved. Hiring a mediator is generally not as expensive as a lawyer.
If you look at a divorce case, a mediator can be highly beneficial in creating a more peaceful environment by encouraging the parties to have a more civil dialogue with each other. This can be helpful, especially if children are involved in the process and need their parents to have a more cordial relationship.
Lawyers, on the other hand, are not objective as they have their individual clients’ best interests in mind. They generally work towards a settlement that is most favorable to their client, unlike a mediator. Thus, the lawyer can also be part of the mediation process, but as a biased representative of one of the parties.
If no settlement or agreement has been reached during a mediation process, a lawyer can recommend their client to take the case to a court, where it will be presided over by a judge.
How many sessions of mediation do you really need?
There is no right answer as to the number of mediation sessions you need. It depends on the nature of the dispute, the number of witnesses involved and other factors that can either shorten or extend the process.
However, as a general observation, most cases require two to five sessions to reach a favorable agreement. In cases that are more straightforward, parties may only need one complete session to reach their decision.
A mediation session can last anywhere between two to five hours, depending on several factors. Mediators usually advise their clients to keep aside a day to complete the mediation process. If the outcomes are not achieved, they may schedule an additional session until the desired result is achieved.
It is important to remember that mediation is a much more flexible and cost-effective method for parties to resolve their disputes than going to court, which can be lengthy and expensive (with lawyers and court fees). And even if you don’t reach 100% agreement on all conflicts involved, the more you can resolve through mediation, the less you’ll pay to litigate all the items in court.