Mediation is simply an assisted negotiation.
In the mediation process, a neutral professional helps parties to a conflict come to an acceptable resolution to their problems. The mediator does NOT make any decisions for the people involved, but simply hosts, facilitates and assists their discussions, to enable them to reach their own agreements. Rather than communicate with or through attorneys, mediation allows a channel for direct negotiations between the people involved.
A mediator helps family members in conflict get unstuck, helping them define the problems and keep the discussions focused on the central issues, and assisting them to explore new perspectives on the problems and the potential solutions. The mediator helps those in conflict gather the information they need to reach a resolution, brainstorms regarding possible answers, and may — when appropriate — share what others who faced similar issues have done, or how a court would likely handle the issue.
However, the ultimate decision about what is to be done remains firmly and completely in the hands of the participants — not the mediator. No agreement is reached unless the people in conflict accept the outcome…and the process continues only so long as everyone involved want it to.
Typically, family mediations are done in several sessions spread over time, to allow people to process possibilities at leisure — although the process will be structured to meet the particular needs of the participants. In most family mediations attorneys are not brought into the room, although consultation with counsel is encouraged; again, however, what is needed by the principals involved is the paramount concern. Depending on the nature of the particular controversy, any agreements that are reached may or may not be distilled into writing, and a binding contract resolving matters may be signed by the participants.
Mediation has proven valuable in family disputes that involve divorce, legal separation, parenting plans, partner break-ups, couple disputes, elder care decisions, family business controversies, and estate matters.