Mediation is a process in which the parties discuss ways to settle their disputes under the guidance of a mediator. A mediator is a neutral third party who is usually a lawyer with special training in mediation and dispute resolution. At mediation, each party has the opportunity to discuss his or her side of the case with the mediator and then the mediator facilitates negotiations between the parties to help them reach a mutually satisfactory agreement of the issues in dispute. Since the mediator acts in a neutral capacity, and the parties have competing interests, the mediator ethically cannot give legal advice to either party. Both parties typically have their own attorneys present at the mediation to offer advocacy and advice throughout the settlement negotiations, and to discuss legal ramifications of possible settlement options. In some situations, one or both parties will attend mediation without an attorney.
Mediation has proven to be one of the most effective ways of resolving legal disputes outside of the courtroom. The following tips can maximize your chances of settling your case at mediation:
- Be prepared for the mediation. Have appraisals, valuations, and other necessary reports completed prior to the mediation. For example, if your case is divorce related and involves claims for division of marital property, it is important to have appraisals and valuation reports completed before the date of mediation. It is difficult, if not impossible, to have meaningful discussions about how a marital asset should be equitably distributed when the parties do not agree on the value and neither party has any reliable documentation showing what the asset is worth. Likewise, if you have a claim for damages, you should have receipts and other reports that are necessary to support your claim.
- Meet with your attorney prior to the mediation to review the merits of your case and discuss possible settlement proposals. This is especially important if you do not plan to have your attorney present at the mediation. Remember, the mediator cannot give legal advice.
- Be open-minded. Your prospects of resolving your legal dispute through mediation will be enhanced if you approach the mediation process and settlement possibilities with an open mind and an interest in reaching a fair resolution.
- Choose a skilled mediator with a solid reputation. The experience, skill, and temperament of a mediator can be invaluable to helping parties achieve workable solutions to their problems.
Retired Chief District Court Judge Gary S. Cash has dedicated his career to helping people through his legal and judicial service. He has been a licensed attorney in North Carolina since 1976 and served as a District Court Judge in Asheville in Buncombe County, North Carolina for 25 years.
Since his retirement from the bench in 2010, he has devoted his legal practice exclusively to helping parties in Western North Carolina and across the state resolve their legal disputes through the process of mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution. Judge Cash is certified by the North Carolina Dispute Resolution Commission to conduct Superior Court mediations, District Court family financial mediations, and mediations concerning certain matters before the Clerks of Superior Court. As of August 2016, Judge Cash is serving as Chair of the North Carolina Dispute Resolution Commission.