Is mediation considered a legal proceeding?
UPDATED: October 6, 2011
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Mediation is not a formal legal proceeding, although it may be required by a court that you at least try out the mediation process in certain cases before bringing the issues to court to be decided. Mediation is considered a form of "alternative dispute resolution" or ADR, and it is a good solution in certain cases where parties can be civil enough to work together and work out their differences out of court.
Unlike a court trial, or even binding arbitration, the parties who are involved in a mediation aren't going to walk away with a decision made by a third party. The mediator's role isn't to hear evidence, take sides or issue a judgment that the parties are bound to. Instead, the mediator helps the parties in dispute work out their own issues and either of the parties can choose to ignore the resolution or back out at any time. Mediation can provide a non-litigation based, amicable, and often less expensive way to resolve many issues. By working with a mediator to understand where the problem lies and what each party needs to fix the issue, the goal is that an agreement will be developed that works for everyone.
Mediation may be used in many different types of legal disputes, however, divorce mediation is one of the most common. A couple who is getting a divorce may not be able to communicate well enough to resolve all of their issues on their own, but may not want to bear the expense of a long legal battle. They also may want to avoid putting their kids through such an ordeal or have their personal information become court record. Mediation can allow them to sit down with a third party who will facilitate communication and the drafting of a divorce settlement that works for both parties.
Mediation can be a good legal option in the right circumstances, but you will want to talk to a lawyer to see if mediation is an option for you. You'll also want to have a mediation lawyer present during the mediation process so you can ensure your legal rights are fully protected in any agreement you decide to make.