Washington LawHelp

Mediation: Should I Use It?

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project LSC Funded
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3226EN - Mediation is an informal way to resolve disputes without going to court. The parties attempt to negotiate a mutually agreeable settlement with the help of a neutral mediator. Mediation can be used in many types of disputes.

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What is mediation?

It is a way for people to settle disagreements. You can share

  • your side of the story

  • how the disagreement has affected you

  • how you think you should resolve it

Mediation takes place with the help of a trained mediator. The mediator does not take sides.

Mediation makes sense when both people are ready to compromise. Each person must be trying to reach a reasonable solution in good faith. Otherwise, it does not work.

What does the mediator do?

The mediator tries to help you reach a fair solution that works for each person. The mediator helps with communication and creates a safe place for you to negotiate.  S/he works to make sure each person

  • has a chance to be heard

  • shows respect for the other's values and feelings

  • explores workable solutions to your disagreements 

The mediator does not

  • give legal advice

  • decide who is "right" 

  • make decisions for you

*When asked, mediators may share their opinions.

If you reach an agreement in mediation, the mediator will usually put the agreement in writing and have everyone sign it.  If you want a lawyer to review the agreement before you sign it or submit it to the court, have the mediator put in the agreement that lawyers can review it.

*Warning: If you have lawyers review the agreement, you may decide to make changes and so you may not have resolved the matter.

 
Why should I try mediation?

Here are some reasons:   

Mediation is generally voluntary. (You do not have to do it.)  You both must be satisfied to reach an agreement. This protects you. The mediator cannot force you to accept a decision you do not like. At the same time, you must pay attention to what the other person needs to reach an agreement. 

You can always go to court if mediation does not work out.  

You can choose mediation in your parenting plan as the way to settle any future disputes.

Some counties require mediation, especially in cases involving parenting plans or custody.

Mediation is confidential.  Generally, what you say there stays there.  No one can use what you say in mediation against you later in court or other hearings. There are exceptions to this. Threats of violence and information about abuse that has not been reported are not confidential.

Mediation allows you to try to solve problems creatively. After you have discussed both sides of the dispute, it may be easy to see and suggest a simple solution.

You have a trained mediator's help.  Feelings and values are part of the dispute and negotiations. You may use them to reach an acceptable agreement.

Mediation is generally cheaper than court. Many mediation organizations offer a sliding scale. This is often much cheaper than going to court. Even if you need a judge to sign your agreement and convert it to a court order, as in a parenting plan case, you will not have to pay a lawyer to go to trial about these issues with you.

Mediation can help you save an ongoing relationship to the extent you can. This can include

  • landlord/tenant

  • employer/employee

  • parent/parent

*There are no guarantees. Mediation may not work for you.

How is mediation different from court?

In court or arbitration, a decision maker listens to both sides of the dispute and then decides for you.  That is usually the final decision. You must follow it, even if you think it unfair.

In mediation, you and the other party are encouraged to work hard to determine how to solve the dispute. You are active in finding a solution.

If you cannot agree, you can still go to court.  If you solve part of your issue in mediation, you will have less to ask the court to decide.  If you reach full agreement, you do not need a trial at all.

*The court may need to sign off on your agreement, especially in the family law area.

Can I use mediation for my problem?

You can use mediation in all sorts of areas:

  • family law

  • personal injury

  • consumer complaints

  • employment law

  • landlord/tenant disputes

  • disputes between neighbors

  • collections

There has been domestic violence. Should I use mediation?

Probably not. When there is an imbalance in negotiating power, such as in cases of physical, emotional, or economic abuse, or if one party feels intimidated by the other, the result will probably be unfair. 

If you decide to use mediation even though the other person intimidates you, you should have a lawyer. The mediation should take place with the parties in different rooms.   

How do I get ready for mediation?

You must work to understand your legal rights and the results of the choices open to you.  You need to understand what the law requires, so you do not ask for something the law does not allow. You must work to organize your thinking. The mediator cannot do this for you. Talk to a lawyer before your mediation, if possible.

When can I mediate?

You can mediate at any time:

  • before going to court

  • during a court case

  • after a court case is over 

Example: you can mediate to clarify a final parenting plan. 

*If your county requires mediation for your type of case, you must mediate and try to reach an agreement before your case goes to trial. 

What does mediation cost?

It depends.

Many Washington counties have Dispute Resolution Centers. These provide mediation services at no or low cost. 

Mediators in private practice generally charge $50 – 200 an hour, often based on type of case and the participants' family income.  Sometimes there is also a small administrative fee.

How do I find a mediator?

Check your phone book or the Resolution Washington website, http://www.resolutionwa.org/for your local Dispute Resolution Center. 

You should use a referral service to find a private mediator, if possible.  There is a list of mediators in private practice at http://washingtonmediation.org/find-mediator/.

*Before choosing a mediator, read the mediator's website and ask about fees.

What if I need legal help?

CLEAR is Washington's toll-free, centralized intake, advice and referral service for low-income people seeking free legal assistance with civil legal problems. 

  • Outside King County: Call 1-888-201-1014 weekdays from 9:10 a.m. until 12:25 p.m. 

  • King County: Call 211 for information and referral to an appropriate legal services provider Monday through Friday from 8:00 am – 6:00 pm. You may also call (206) 461-3200, or the toll-free number, 1-877-211-WASH (9274). You can also get information on legal service providers in King County through 211's website at www.resourcehouse.com/win211/.

  • Persons 60 and Over: Persons 60 or over may call CLEAR*Sr at 1-888-387-7111, regardless of income.

Deaf and hearing-impaired callers can call 1-800-833-6384 or 711 to get a free relay operator. They will then connect you with 211.


This publication was adapted with permission from Legal Voice from a publication of the same name.

3226EN

This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities. It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice.
This information is current as of March 2015.

© 2015 Northwest Justice Project — 1-888-201-1014
(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and to individuals for non-commercial purposes only.)

Last Review and Update: Mar 12, 2015
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