Does a mediator decide who wins?
UPDATED: October 6, 2011
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A mediator is not going to decide your case for you. Not only do they have no legally binding authority to do so, but that is also not their aim. The purpose of mediation is to enable you and the other party to come to an agreement together. Mediation is designed to best reflect the needs and interests of all parties involved. Unlike arbitration, which is often binding, a mediator does not take sides or make any party do anything, including cooperate. The success or failure of mediation is up to you.
The Mediation Process
When you enter into the mediation process, you and the other person or people whom you are having a dispute with will find an independent third party mediator. Sometimes, the court will require you to attempt to mediate a dispute and will refer you to a mediator. In most cases, if you choose mediation, you will need to pay for the mediator yourself. Most charge an hourly rate, so the quicker you are able to resolve the dispute during mediation, the less costly the process will be. In general, paying for a mediator tends to be less costly than going through a protracted trial where each side has to present evidence.
Once you have agreed to mediation and hired a mediator, a session will be scheduled. At the sessions, the mediator helps you to communicate clearly and really listen to the other side. This allows you to both express what needs to happen to settle the case outside of court. At any point, if the mediation doesn't seem fruitful, either party is free to put an end to the process.
Mediators, in addition to not deciding who wins, also aren't going to help enforce your legal rights. You should still consider hiring a lawyer if you are going to mediate an issue, so that you can ensure you don't agree to something that isn't in your best interests.