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Mediation is a confidential, voluntary process in which a trained mediator facilitates communication between disputants and assists parties in reaching a mutually acceptable resolution of all or part of their dispute. The mediator is not the decision-maker and does not resolve the dispute -- the parties do. However, a mediator is often able to more fully explore the parties' underlying interests, needs and priorities. Mediation is a flexible and less formal process that may reduce the time and costs often associated with a formal trial. If an agreement is reached, the parties can agree to make it legally enforceable.
You can have your case mediated either before or after a small claims case has been filed. If you mediate before filing a case and an agreement is reached at the mediation, there will be no need to file a small claims case. If a case has already been filed, the agreement reached at the mediation can be entered into the court record without having to appear in court. You may also have an opportunity to mediate your case on the day of the hearing at the courthouse.
Mediation may be particularly useful when parties have a relationship they want to preserve. So when family members, neighbors, or business partners have a dispute, mediation may be the most effective alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process to use. Mediation is also effective when emotions are getting in the way of resolution. An effective mediator can hear the parties and help them communicate with each other in an effective and constructive manner.
If you and the other party are unable to reach a full agreement at the mediation, your case or any unresolved issues will still be decided by the Commissioner or Temporary Judge assigned to your small claims case on the same day your hearing was originally scheduled. If you mediate your dispute before filing a small claims case, but don't reach a full agreement, you can still file a small claims case with the court. However, your claim may be time-sensitive, so you may want to check with your attorney or with the Small Claims Advisor to determine when you have to file your case. You can contact the Small Claims Advisor by calling (858) 634-1777. This is a free service.