What Is Mediation?

Mediation is an informal process that allows two or more individuals involved in a dispute to meet in a private, confidential setting with the help of a neutral third party (the mediator) to develop a solution to their problem.

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Community Dispute Resolution Program (CDRP)

In many jurisdictions throughout Michigan, courts are making citizens aware of the availability of community mediation as an alternative to litigating many types of disputes. Although a clear benefit of mediation is that successfully mediated cases are removed from the docket, the real advantage of mediation is that it is often a more appropriate process for resolving a problem. In courts that have developed referral processes with local community mediation centers, judges are finding that in many cases parties are able to resolve their own disputes with the assistance of a trained mediator. And as highlighted in a recent statewide evaluation of community mediation, a high percentage of citizens appreciate having the collaborative mediation process available as an alternative to the adversarial litigation process.

Each year, over 10,000 Michigan citizens who might otherwise bring a dispute before a judge or magistrate will resolve their disputes through mediation services supported by the Community Dispute Resolution Program (CDRP). Mediation — as offered through CDRP centers — is a voluntary process in which two or more parties meet with a trained neutral mediator and together find a solution resolving their problem. Mediators have no decision-making authority, and they do not render case evaluations as in the MCR 2.403 process. Instead, they are trained to assist the parties themselves in achieving resolution.

The Mediation Process

The mediation process is quite simple. Parties begin by telling each other their side of the story. The mediator helps parties identify the issues which, if addressed to each party’s satisfaction, would resolve the dispute. Parties are invited to brainstorm options for resolving the dispute, and the mediator helps the parties narrow the options until the one that best addresses all the parties’ interests is found. It is the mediator’s role to help parties move from the impasse they are in when they begin mediation to a resolution resulting in a written agreement.

The Cost of Mediation

Mediation at a CDRP center is either free or low cost. It can usually begin within two weeks of contacting a center. A typical mediation session takes about two hours. Parties mediating disputes typically reach agreements in 8 out of 10 cases; by the same percentage, parties keep their agreements. These resolution rates, consistent since the program’s inception in 1990, demonstrate that the collaborative environment is an effective alternative to the adversarial courtroom environment.

How Effective Is Mediation?

Mediation is effective across a broad array of dispute types, including merchant/consumer, landlord/tenant, professional/client, and neighborhood disputes. Increasingly, parties are turning to CDRP centers for the resolution of more complex matters, including complaints arising under the Americans with Disabilities Act, contested adult guardianship matters, juveniles petitioned into probate court, EEOC complaints, and disputes between farmers and federal agencies. Several courts and centers are exploring mediating issues that citizens are attempting to resolve by obtaining a personal protection order. In many cases, a dispute may not meet the statutory requirements for a PPO (like nonviolent neighborhood disputes), but nevertheless presents a problem that a CDRP center could help resolve.

The program’s effectiveness was independently substantiated in a recently completed statewide evaluation. The report concluded that nearly all centers were operating within the community-based model created by the Legislature and had demonstrated their ability to mediate many dispute types. The report cautioned, however, that inadequate program funding remains the most significant challenge to sustaining the CDRP initiative.

Student Peer Mediation

Although the CDRP centers are equipped to mediate disputes on a case-by-case basis, many people addressing community conflict recognize that long-term solutions involve training youth in conflict management skills. Many CDRP centers now offer assistance in creating student peer mediation programs in which students mediate among themselves. Many centers also provide training workshops for school staff and parents.

Training Volunteer Mediators

Another unique aspect of community mediation is that the mediators are all volunteers reflecting the diversity of their communities. The training standards for community mediators are among the highest in the nation. Michigan is also the only state that has implemented a training program for the trainers of mediators.

The Benefits of Mediation

Mediation is flexible: Mediation can be used to discuss creative and individualized solutions. In a mediation session, any issue the parties bring to the table (i.e., individual needs, interpersonal issues, etc.) can be discussed. The source of conflict can be identified and resolved, especially in cases of inaccurate or incomplete information, inappropriate or incompatible goals, ineffective or unacceptable methods for resolving disagreement, and/or antagonistic or other negative feelings. In court, only issues pertaining to legal matters are part of the discussion.

Participants control the outcome: In the mediation process, the people involved in the situation are the ones who create an agreement that works for them. In arbitration or in court, an agreement is imposed by an arbitrator or judge.

Mediation is forward-looking: It focuses on what the issues are now, how they can be resolved, and what can be done to avoid similar problems in the future. In court or in arbitration, the focus is on the past, i.e., who is at fault for the current situation.

Mediation can preserve relationships: When disputants will be interacting with one another in the future, mediation can help to build a framework for future interaction based upon mutual interests and needs rather than adversarial positions. Mediation is a “win/win” rather than a “win/lose” solution. In court, someone wins, someone loses.

Mediation is creative: The final agreement can be virtually anything the parties involved agree to so long as it is not at odds with the law.

Mediation is confidential: The parties can speak openly and directly to each other and to the issues, without the proceedings being a matter of public record. The mediation process provides a nonthreatening, informal procedure as an initial step in resolving conflicts. If a situation is resolved through mediation, it does not need to go any further. If mediation does not resolve the issue, or if the issue is not appropriate for mediation, the parties are free to pursue all of their legal remedies, such as suing in court. In a majority of disputes taken to mediation, however, parties reach an agreement that makes legal action unnecessary.