Several months after being sued, Sarah was surprised to learn the judge had ordered the parties in the lawsuit to mediate. She felt they had barely scratched the surface of the case and had a lot more work to do before even thinking of settlement. Sarah wondered if parties will be forced to settle at a court-ordered mediation or if they have the freedom to refuse the mediation. We will take a look at these and other issues related to court-ordered mediation.

What is mediation?

Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution – a different way of settling a legal dispute. The other general types are negotiation and arbitration. During a mediation session, the parties to a legal disagreement meet with an impartial third party – the mediator. Unlike a judge or an arbitrator, the mediator’s role is to help the parties reach a settlement agreement.

Many lawsuits settle right before trial, after months or years of motions, hearings, depositions, and discovery. Some of those cases might have settled earlier with the help of a mediator.

Do I have to participate?

Mediation is usually completely voluntary. However, court-ordered mediation is handled a little differently.

Any party to the mediation, including the mediator, may terminate the mediation after the initial mediation session by filing one of the following documents with the court:

(1) A notice that the parties have signed a settlement agreement; or

(2) The mediator’s declaration that further mediation sessions probably will not lead to a settlement.

Sanctions can be imposed on any party that refuses to comply with the mediation order.

Mediation for cases involving domestic abuse or child custody and visitation are also handled differently. Courts may decide not to order mediation to protect one or more parties. If you have been ordered to mediate, contact an attorney immediately. You may need to notify the court that domestic violence is part of the case.

Does every mediation end with a settlement?

No, the parties are not forced to settle their case. Instead, mediation is a way for the parties to explore the possibility of reaching an agreement. If they remain unable to resolve their differences, the mediator will notify the court that further mediation is unnecessary. The lawsuit would continue on through the court system.

Get advice from someone who knows about court-ordered mediation

Mediation may seem easy, but it is actually very complicated. That’s why it’s crucial to get informed advice from an experienced lawyer.

When you need help with a court-ordered mediation, call Bruce Adams. He can assist as an attorney or as a mediator. Please contact us at 256-237-3339 to set up an appointment. Our office is located in Anniston, Alabama, but we assist clients in surrounding communities like Oxford, Jacksonville, Heflin, Gadsden, and Pell City.