Small Claims Mediation FAQ

Mediation is a confidential, voluntary process in which a trained mediator acts as a neutral person who facilitates communication between individuals who have a dispute, 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. 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.

The National Conflict Resolution Center may be able to provide mediation services without any cost to you or the other party. Providers have contracted with the County of San Diego pursuant to the Dispute Resolution Program Act, Business and Professions Code, Division 1, Chapter 8 (commencing with section 465) (as operative January 1, 2007), which funds local dispute resolution programs and pays for these services.

You can request a mediator who is fluent in Spanish, and if both parties agree, the mediation can be conducted in Spanish.

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.

Mediation may not be effective if one of the parties is unwilling to cooperate or compromise. Mediation also may not be effective if one of the parties has a significant advantage in power over the other. Therefore, mediation may not be a good choice if the parties have a history of abuse or victimization.  

The mediator is an impartial neutral intermediary whose role is to facilitate a discussion of the issues and perspectives of each party and help them reach an agreement. The mediator will not impose a settlement, but will assist the parties in exploring settlement options. Generally, the mediator does not communicate with the court except to file the parties' written agreement or stipulation.  

Except as otherwise provided by the California Evidence Code or California law, all communications, negotiations, or settlement discussions in the course of a mediation or mediation consultation are confidential and are not admissible or subject to discovery without agreement of the parties. 

Usually, mediation of a small claims dispute lasts anywhere between 30 minutes and two hours. You should be prepared to discuss all relevant issues in your case. You should be prepared to state your position and to listen carefully to the other side. Persuasive and forceful communication is permitted, but civility and mutual respect is vital. Hostile or argumentative tactics are likely to cause positions to become entrenched and thus discourage progress.  

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.

Your claim may be time-sensitive, so you may want to check with an attorney to determine when you have to file your case. You can also call the Small Claims Legal Advisor at (858) 634-1777.

Please contact the National Conflict Resolution Center at (619) 238-2400.