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Mediation is an alternative to going to trial during legal disputes. The parties on both sides agree to work with an impartial third party who oversees discussions concerning the matter in dispute. The goal and hope of mediation is to come to a settlement or compromise that is agreeable to both parties. The mediator doesn't represent either party but works with both to help ensure that discussions are civil and agreements are as fair as possible given the situation. In many cases, if mediation fails, then the parties can move on to a trial in court.
Arbitration is another alternative to a court trial, but it's a bit more formal than mediation. During the arbitration, evidence and testimony is presented to a panel of people who act as judges of sorts. They issue an opinion about the matter in writing, and depending on how the arbitration was entered into, it may or may not be binding. If it's binding, the parties must accept and abide by the decisions of the arbitrators. Commonly, each side selects a third-party arbitrator, and each of those people selects a third person.
Arbitration and mediation both have pros and cons, and which one is right for you depends on your personal preferences, legal goals, and the details of your case. Mediation can offer more control, and because of that, those who go through it tend to report a higher level of satisfaction. But arbitration is more formal and may provide a more structured environment, which may be needed if civil discussions aren't possible.
If you can choose a mediator or arbitrator, it's critical to look for a neutral third party. Someone who is in any way tied to either side or who might have a known strong opinion on matters related to the case may not be the best option. Legal knowledge is important for mediators and arbitrators, but arbitrators should also have court experience. Retired or former judges or trial lawyers may be good choices for arbitrators, for example.
An arbitration agreement waives your right to seek legal remedies in court under certain circumstances, specifically, if you and the other party have unresolved disputes. You submit to binding arbitration over all matters, which can be somewhat risky as arbitration agreements are usually requested by companies that have arbitration processes set up, and those processes may not be impartial.
Mandatory arbitration occurs when someone is forced to use arbitration as a means of settling an issue. One of the most common scenarios for this is employment. Employers may require that employees sign an arbitration agreement before they can begin work. The employees then give up some rights to go to court over certain employment issues.
During a child custody mediation, the mediator will likely encourage each party to focus on the needs of the child or children. The parties work together to agree on custody. They typically won't discuss matters of child support, marital property, or other factors of the divorce—unless the mediation is for the whole divorce. If you are attending mediation, it is advised to come prepared to discuss what's in the best interest of your children and situation, but also be prepared to reach a compromise.
Divorce mediation enables two parties to work together to come to decisions about their divorce with the guidance of a third-party mediator. The mediator may help to work through child custody, child support, property division, and other divorce matters. You'll need to pay the mediator for their services, which may be a cost you split. Be prepared to make a civil and calm case for your side of issues, but know that mediation is about coming to a compromise that works for both parties.
Mediation is a voluntary process, and both parties must put in the work for it to succeed. If either party stops working toward a compromise, the mediation can fail. And, it can also fail if the parties reach a point that they simply can't agree. In such cases, you might choose another course of action, such as arbitration or a court trial.