If a court sends me to mediation, do I have to agree to settle my case?
UPDATED: February 20, 2013
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Mediation is a non-binding and generally voluntary form of alternative dispute resolution. If a court sends you to mediation, it can require that you mediate in good faith. However, they cannot and will not require that you settle your case. Mediation is different from arbitration in that with arbitration, you must submit your dispute to an arbitrator and are bound by the decision, whereas the mediation process does not bind you to any resolution.
If you are sent to mediation, you will be working, along with the other party or parties involved in the dispute, with a mediator to try to come to an agreement that everyone is happy with. The mediator's job is to help you and empower you to come to a resolution, not to issue a ruling like a judge would.
By working with the mediator, communicating openly, sharing what you believe is most important, and listening to the other side, you may be able to work out your differences in a manner that is less expensive than a long court dispute. As such, it's usually worthwhile to at least try to settle the case in a fair manner. If nothing else, cooperating in mediation will make you look better to the judge presiding over the case, if it ends up back in court.
Both parties can, however, walk away from the mediation at any time. If the other party is being unfair, or if it's clear that there will be no resolution without court intervention, then you can put an end to the mediation process so you don't waste your time.
If you are involved in a dispute that was sent to mediation, consult with an attorney about the laws in your state and about how to approach the mediation in a way that will ensure your rights are protected.