In the United States, court mediation refers to a procedure offered, by local district courts, to litigants as a means to expeditiously settle a dispute, without the need for further litigation. Mediation is an alternative dispute resolution process in which a neutral third party, through active consultation with the parties, seeks to negotiate a settlement of the case. Mediators are skilled in conflict resolution techniques, and take a proactive role in the settlement process by urging the parties to move away from their initial, intractable bargaining positions and toward accommodation. A mediator will usually have a thorough understanding of the facts and circumstances of the parties’ case, as well as the applicable law. During the court mediation process, it is not uncommon for a mediator, in an attempt to induce a negotiated settlement, to illustrate to one or both of the parties the weaknesses in their respective court cases.
Civil litigation can be a costly, time-consuming, and protracted process. Although most civil cases in the United States are settled prior to trial, due to the posturing that occurs between parties during the normal phases of the civil litigation process, usually a settlement is not reached until shortly before trial. The goal of court mediation is to afford the parties an opportunity to settle the case at the initial stages of litigation, rather than waiting shortly before a trial date has been scheduled to resolve the dispute. Resolution of the case at the early stages saves both litigants time and money, and relieves the court system of pending cases on its docket.
The court mediation process can be either mandatory or voluntary. Many jurisdictions make continuation with the civil litigation process contingent upon participation in a court mediation session. If the parties are unable to resolve the dispute through mediation, they are free to proceed with the civil litigation process in the court system. Most courts will appoint a mediator for the parties, and schedule a mandatory mediation session shortly after a defendant has filed his response to a civil complaint.
Court mediation affords tangible benefits to both litigants as well as to the courts. If court mediation is successful in resolving the dispute at the early stages of litigation, it lessens the administrative burden on the court system. Having a dispute resolved through mediation at the beginning stages of litigation saves the parties both time and money, and eliminates the uncertainties and risks of a trial.