What is Mediation?


Mediation is a collaborative process in which parties to a conflict or dispute (for instance, divorcing or separating spouses or partners) meet together with a neutral person (the mediator) to identify issues and problems, brainstorm solutions, communicate about alternatives, and ultimately make joint decisions about how the conflict will be resolved. The mediator does not “take sides” or make decisions for the parties, but instead remains neutral and guides and focuses the communication as the parties make their own decisions about how the issues at hand will be resolved.


Mediation is voluntary

No one can be forced to participate in mediation, although many prefer it since it can often greatly reduce the time, money, and stress involved in resolving conflicts. But even after a mediation is started, all individuals involved (including the mediator) have a right to end the process at any time. This is part of the beauty of mediation: you are in control of whether you agree, disagree, or want to choose an alternate path. Most mediations end in a successful resolution of the dispute. However, if a mediation is ended before full agreement is reached, the parties may still take all or some of their issues to court for a judge to decide. Alternately, they can choose to take a break and try again later, as long as mediation is still appropriate for their case and everyone involved is willing to mediate again. A court may order parties in a legal conflict to learn about mediation and to consider whether it is a good option for them, but no one can be forced to mediate instead of taking a case to trial.

What benefits does mediation offer? >>


Mediation is not a legal process

Divorce is a legal action through which a marriage is dissolved. Mediating a divorce or custody dispute can be thought of as a way of preparing thoroughly for the final legal action, so that the process is straightforward and efficient, and does not involve last-minute surprises about family or financial matters. Your mediator (even when the mediator is a practicing attorney) is not permitted to give you legal advice of any sort, but it is always recommended that you seek legal consultation at some point during the mediation process. It is not necessary to work with an attorney before beginning mediation, but it is always strongly advised before you sign any agreements. A mediator can give you legal information so that you can inform yourself about what the laws of Virginia say about divorce, custody, and other matters, but cannot interpret that information for you or tell you how it applies specifically to your case. Remember, a mediator is a completely neutral professional who serves the decision-making process as a whole, rather than either of you as individuals. In contrast, an attorney giving you legal consultation is working and advocating for you alone. He or she can advise you about how the laws of Virginia apply to your specific situation.

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Mediation is confidential

In general, everything that is discussed in the mediation room stays in the mediation room, with a few specific exceptions that will be discussed in detail at your first session. Whether you reach an agreement or not, none of the discussion or notes from mediation can normally be used in a later legal proceeding, and your mediator cannot be asked to testify in a court case. If you choose to submit a written version of any agreement to the courts when you file for divorce or custody matters, the final agreement will no longer be confidential. However, all the discussion, brainstorming, and consideration of other options that may have occurred in mediation will still be confidential. This means that mediation can be a safe way to try to come to agreement without putting yourself at undue risk if the case goes to court later on.

What will I get in mediation? >>