If you find yourself in need of professional legal advice, your first instinct might be to look up a lawyer and prepare to go to court. But in many cases, these are not the only options available. You may want to consider seeking the services of a mediator. As in a court case, the process of mediation provides a method of conflict resolution. However, it is much more informal and does not usually assign fault to one party or another. Keep the differences between a mediator and a lawyer in mind to decide which is best for your situation.
In the legal sense, mediation involves the use of a neutral third party who helps two or more conflicting groups reach a settlement in a dispute. This process takes place outside of a courtroom, and those who facilitate mediation are not acting in the interest of the state as a judge would. Therefore, in the mediation process, there is no need to assign blame, distinguish right from wrong, or otherwise provide any prescriptive advice. Instead, a mediator works with everyone involved in a dispute to help them come to an agreement.
Generally, mediation offers the following benefits compared to pursuing litigation in the court system:
- Cost and time: Mediation services generally cost less than hiring a lawyer, primarily because there is much less time involved. Mediation proceedings could take as little as a few hours, while court cases tend to last months or even years.
- Privacy: While all court cases are made public, mediation is almost always entirely confidential.
- Peace of mind: Merely agreeing to resolve a dispute through mediation indicates both parties are likely willing to come to an agreement, making the process typically less stressful than a court battle.
Mediation for Divorce
One of the more common jobs for professional mediators is to resolve disputes between couples seeking legal separation or divorce. This might be preferable over hiring a lawyer when both parties wish to minimize any stress that can result from this process, particularly when children are involved. Divorces that are mediated tend to help the couple reach a more realistic agreement and maintain a practical relationship when the proceedings are done. And as previously mentioned, the mediation process tends to take less time and money than hiring a lawyer.
Choosing a Lawyer Over a Mediator
While mediation has its benefits, there are some situations where it's not feasible and the services of a lawyer are needed instead.
The biggest mark against mediation is in cases where a crime may have been committed, or in the case of gross negligence. For example, there would be little reason to hire a mediator after a car accident - either the police will seek prosecution against one or more drivers, or insurance will determine fault and compensate drivers accordingly.
Mediation might not work well in all cases of divorce, either. Professional mediators are bound to a code of confidentiality, except in cases of suspected criminal activity, abuse or neglect. If a spouse has displayed a pattern of abuse or neglect, either toward their partner or their children, a mediator is legally required to bring it to the attention of the police. But even if criminal behavior is not suspected, one or both spouses may be unwilling to work together to reach a settlement. In that case, mediation would be ineffective.
Ultimately, if you have a choice between mediation and litigation, it makes the most sense to consider your relationship with the other party. When you would prefer to stay on good terms with the other person after working out an agreement, mediation can be a wise option. But if you feel no obligation to do so, or feel that the other party must admit their guilt or be found guilty by a judge or jury, hiring a lawyer might be the best choice.
To find out more about mediation services, search online for qualified professionals in your area. Many states require mediators to obtain special licenses or certification, so be sure to research these, as well. Don't forget to discuss the specifics, including all fees and their process, before finalizing plans.