Two parties working with a professional mediator for the first time

How Does The Mediation Process Work?

If you’re going through a divorce or other court proceeding, you may decide to see a divorce or legal mediator. Whether it’s your decision or it’s a legal requirement, the mediation process can go a lot easier for everyone involved if you know what to expect. Below is a step-by-step description of how the mediation process works, from beginning to end.

Initial Contact

During the initial visit, the legal mediator will make an opening statement to all parties present. The mediator will go over the rules of the mediation process, list the overall goals, and explain the benefits of everyone coming to an amicable agreement. Depending on the parties and how agreeable they may (or may not) be, the mediation process can take just one day or can go on for several weeks.

Joint Sessions

After the legal mediator gives the opening statement, the attorneys speak on behalf of their clients, describe their goals, and explain what they would like to see in a settlement. Generally, the plaintiff’s attorney will begin.

When the attorneys are finished speaking, the mediator will meet with the parties together and hear each person’s feelings and thoughts on what they want and feel is fair. During this part of the mediation process, the attorneys are no longer present. When one party is talking, the other must listen and cannot interrupt.

Individual Sessions

After the joint sessions, the mediator meets with each party individually. These sessions, which are called private caucuses, give each person the opportunity to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of their case and any settlement goals they may have. The private caucuses are generally considered as the “heart” of the mediation process and generally play a large role in recommendations the mediator may make to the parties involved. These private caucuses may be held one time or many times, depending on the issues involved and each person’s willingness to compromise.

Settlement Agreement

Once the private sessions are complete, the legal mediator will bring both parties together again to outline each party’s wishes and facilitate negotiations. The mediator works with both parties and doesn't take sides. If an agreement is reached, the mediator puts it in writing, goes over it with both clients, and has them sign the agreement. If attorneys are involved, the agreement is given to the attorneys, and the attorneys present them to their respective clients.

Although working with a legal mediator may not always result in an agreement settlement, it works in 85% of cases, according to the American Arbitration Association. If the couple can’t come to an agreement, the legal mediator will document what progress has been made, then advise the couple as to what they can do next. Options include additional mediation, arbitration, or litigation to let a judge decide.

Last Updated: November 17, 2014