What happens in mediation?
Court-ordered mediation must begin with an introduction by the mediator explaining the process and the role of the mediator. Among other things, the mediator should explain that the parties make the decisions, not the mediator. The mediator’s introduction is usually followed by an opportunity for you and the other party to describe your concerns. If your lawyer is with you at mediation, these opening remarks may be made by you, your lawyer, or both of you. After these initial procedures, how the mediation is conducted varies. The mediator usually will meet with both parties together to discuss the issues to help you work out your differences. The mediator may also meet with each party privately. This separate meeting is called a caucus. Generally, unless you give the mediator permission to repeat what you say in caucus, the mediator is prohibited from sharing what is discussed.
If you are represented by a lawyer, you and your lawyer will decide how the two of you will interact during the mediation. Some lawyers instruct their clients not to talk during mediation. If this is your decision with your lawyer, it is fine; however, it is important for you to know that you are allowed to speak to the mediator at any time.
Eventually, the mediation will end in one of three ways, either: 1) the parties reach an agreement as to some or all issues – all parties (and their lawyers if present) must sign the agreement; 2) the mediator declares an impasse (because you, the other party, or both are unwilling to continue discussing resolution); or 3) the mediator, with the parties’ consent, continues the mediation session by adjourning for the day. If the mediator declares an impasse as to some or all issues, then you and the other party will have to go back to court to have the judge or jury (if there is one) decide your case.
Tips on How to Prepare for a Mediation
Before you attend mediation, there are a few things you can do to help prepare yourself and to help make the mediation more beneficial to you.
- Get legal advice: Because a mediator cannot give any legal advice to any parties, if you are not currently represented by an attorney but you have legal questions about your case (including what your case may be worth or what to accept as a “good” settlement), you should contact an attorney before the mediation, so you may make an informed decision about settling your case. If you cannot afford one, Legal Aid or The Florida Bar may have a program to assist you.
- Get organized: Go over all of the information that you have and organize it. It may be helpful to list events in the order in which they occurred. Gather any documents about your issue and put them in a folder to bring with you to the mediation. If you have an attorney, talk to your attorney about your case and mediation. Your attorney may be able to provide you with even more information on what to do during the mediation
- Come prepared: Arrive at the mediation on time. Be prepared to talk to the other party in the dispute. Even if you have had problems talking to the other party on your own, the mediator is there to help with communication. Be aware of the security regulations in the building where your mediation is to take place.
- Understand the dispute: Get the issues straight in your head. If it helps, write the issues down. Think about which issues are the most important to you as well as which issues are the least important. Also, think about what may be most and least important to the other person or party.
- Set goals:
Think about what you really need to resolve the case or dispute. Set realistic goals to guide you in your decision making, but be flexible because you may get new information at the mediation that could change your mind.
- Get to the mediation on time: It is important that you arrive at your mediation on time. There are things you should consider in order to be on time – one item is parking. At many buildings, it is difficult to park. Find out in advance about what parking is available and the cost. You may have to pay fees prior to appearing at the mediation or in court. Arrive in enough time to pay your fees.
- Arrange for childcare: If you have children who must be cared for, you should arrange for a babysitter. Often courts and other mediation meeting places do not have anyone to care for children and children are generally not allowed in a mediation.