How Long Does Mediation Take?
Resolving a dispute through mediation takes far less time than litigationBy Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on July 10, 2023 Featuring practical insights from contributing attorney Richard C. Kraege
Use these links to jump to different sections:
- How Does Mediation Work?
- When Can You Use Mediation?
- Is the Mediation Process Required?
- How Long Do Mediation Sessions Usually Last?
- What Preparation is Needed for a Mediation?
- Are Mediations In Person or Remote?
- Find an Experienced Mediator in Your Area
Going to court is not something anyone wants to do. Sometimes, however, litigation becomes necessary to defend your legal rights or to be compensated for injuries or other wrongs.
Still, the process is stressful. Litigation typically takes a long time to complete — multiple months or years depending on the case. It also tends to be expensive, and the important decisions are out of your control and in the hands of a judge.
Mediation, a type of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), is a potential way to resolve your legal dispute that takes much less time than traditional litigation. Instead of weeks or months in court, most mediations take a single day. Whether your dispute is with a family member or with a business partner or employer, mediation may be an ideal, and fast, alternative to going to court.
How Does Mediation Work?
“Mediation is nothing more than a settlement meeting—a meeting to resolve a dispute,” says Richard C. Kraege, an ADR attorney in Indianapolis.
In court, a judge makes the final decision in a case. In mediation, the disputing parties are the ones who drive the decision-making. The goal is for both parties to reach a mutually satisfying settlement agreement, rather than one side winning and the other side losing.
“One of the beauties of mediation is that you’re making the decisions as one of the participants in the meeting. You agree to something and it sticks,” says Kraege. “Mediation agreements are binding. So if a party isn’t paid as the agreement calls for, then instead of going through the entire lawsuit, they would rely on the agreement to be enforced with a court order.”
If the parties are the ones making the decisions, what is the mediator’s role? Kraege likens the role of a mediator to a negotiator engaged in shuttle diplomacy. “Mediation is a meeting with a facilitator or helper—someone who is there to serve as the mail carrier between the parties to a dispute.”
As a neutral third party, a mediator keeps the lines of communication clear and helps lower the emotional temperature in heated discussions.
When Can You Use Mediation?
Mediation can take place during or before a lawsuit, Kraege says. It can be used to resolve many different types of disputes, including family law and all areas of civil litigation:
- Spousal support
- Child support
- Child custody and parenting plans
- Personal injury cases
- Construction litigation
- Business and contract disputes
- Mergers & acquisitions activity
- Employment law disputes
- Real estate and landlord-tenant disputes
Civil litigation is any legal dispute that falls outside criminal law, Kraege explains. “They are typically cases involving money.”
Is the Mediation Process Required?
As mediation and other forms of ADR (such as arbitration) have become more common, some states now require it.
“There are many states where you have to go through mediation in the divorce process, for example,” says Kraege. “In Indiana, where I practice, almost every county requires mediation before you can take a case to court. Other states don’t have mandatory mediation. Some do, some don’t.”
If you’re considering litigation, be aware that your state may require mediation before you can bring your case to court.
How Long Do Mediation Sessions Usually Last?
Mediation sessions are often completed in a single day.
There are some exceptions to that. Kraege says that divorce mediation takes longer, generally speaking. “I’m told they tend to last all day and sometimes into the evening.” And some highly complex cases might need two or three days to resolve. But that’s rare.
“In most run-of-the-mill civil cases, the entire mediation process is usually finished in either a half day or full day,” says Kraege. “A half day means a couple of hours to three hours; a full day means six to eight hours. But there’s really no time schedule in a mediation; once it starts, it goes until you figure out whether it settles or it doesn’t settle. Sometimes mediations are continued so you have to come back for an additional session.”
What Preparation is Needed for a Mediation?
“For the mediators, generally a couple of hours of preparation is required,” says Kraege.
“Mediators get what are called submissions, which are summaries of the issues involved in a dispute. We generally get them from both sides. So, the mediator’s prep generally consists of reviewing those submissions. Sometimes there are cases that are complex and require what we call ‘upstream preparation,’ where there may be conversations with the parties and their lawyers.”
Kraege adds that some highly complex cases might require the disputants to be there in-person. In such cases, “it’s basically a logistics exercise trying to get everybody in a position so that they can talk to each other and work towards getting the matter resolved.”
Barring these sorts of complicated cases, Kraege says that the preparation involved is relatively limited and fast-tracked, involving maybe a couple of hours.
Learn more about preparing for a successful mediation.
Are Mediations In Person or Remote?
“Times have changed,” says Kraege. “We used to get together in every case at the beginning and have an opening session. And in some parts of the countries that still happens. But because of the pandemic, a lot of mediations have gone to remote formats, using Zoom or even phone conferencing.”
Not all changes are bad, though. “Zoom has really opened up mediation. I had a case, for example, where the litigation was in California. So there was a California lawyer involved and it was an employment case. The employee involved was in Texas. With Zoom, we were obviously able to get the necessary parties together much more easily than making people travel.”
Even though everyone isn’t in the same physical space, the role of the mediator is the same. “The mediator is kind of the shuttle diplomacy person who tries to keep the temperature down and goes between the separate rooms, talking about the substantive issues and then just talking about what people are willing to do to settle matters.”
Find an Experienced Mediator in Your Area
Many attorneys who work in alternative dispute resolution provide free initial consultations to learn more about your situation and provide legal advice on the best way to resolve your dispute.
Once you have identified some lawyers, research their profiles to see what kind of cases they handle and if their background is a good fit for your issue. Some mediators will focus on one type of issue—such as child custody mediation or employment discrimination. Other mediators will be generalists and equipped to handle many different types of disputes.
Additional Alternative Dispute Resolution articles
- What is Alternative Dispute Resolution?
- What to Look For in a Good Mediator
- How to Prepare for a Successful Mediation
- The Reasons Why Mediation is Preferred for Business Disputes
- What Is the Difference Between Arbitration and Mediation?
- When Mediation May Not Work for Your Legal Dispute
- A Walk-Through of the Mediation Process
- What is Mediation?
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