Mediation is usually a voluntary process, although sometimes statutes, rules, or court orders may require participation in mediation. Mediation is common in small claims courts, housing courts, family courts, and some criminal court programs and neighborhood justice centers. The mediation process is generally considered more prompt, inexpensive, and procedurally simple than formal litigation. It allows the parties to focus on the underlying circumstances that contributed to the dispute, rather than on narrow legal issues.
In mediation, the disputing parties work with a mediator, a neutral third-party, to resolve their disputes. The mediator facilitates the resolution of the parties' disputes by supervising the exchange of information and the bargaining process. The mediator helps the parties find common ground and deal with unrealistic expectations. The role of the mediator is to interpret concerns, relay information between the parties, frame issues, and define the problems.
Whether a mediation agreement is binding depends on the law in the individual jurisdictions, but most mediation agreements are considered enforceable contracts. In some court-ordered mediations, the agreement becomes a court judgment. If an agreement is not reached, however, the parties may decide to pursue their claims in other forums.