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What’s a Successful Mediation?

Posted By Marina Mayes, Monday, July 31, 2017
Updated: Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Recently I mediated several family mediation cases over a long day with not much of an opportunity to catch up on paperwork until the very end. As I was completing the tedious report sheets I found my mind thinking back to the day’s cases and feeling pleased with each outcome in all four cases that I had mediated that day. My satisfaction certainly did not have anything to do with the overall settlement rate for that day, which we as mediators often find ourselves proudly spouting (80% success rate and so forth). Rather, my satisfaction came from the fact that in a day of four scheduled court-referred mediations, all four couples showed up, each sat through the complete mediation introduction session, and we could go through the process of information sharing and issue spotting. In the end, legal questions prevented two of the four couples from resolving their issues completely.  Ultimately, these couples decided that a decision maker, i.e. judge, needed to hear their legal arguments. At the end of one such mediation, as the parties were leaving, one turned to me and said that she was sorry for having “wasted” my time and that she had been afraid that this would happen. I immediately assured her that she did not waste my time and that a successful mediation does not always mean that an agreement is made right then and there.

How to define a successful mediation has always interested me. This is especially true since so much around mediation highlights success rates and faster case settlements. Funding proposals for mediation centers and mediation court programs often provide examples of how mediations are successful, highlighting again agreement rates between parties who go through the mediation process and reach an agreement prior to a court date. While agreements are key factors to determine if a mediation is successful, I would still caution anyone not to define a mediation unsuccessful simply because no settlement agreement was produced at the end and the parties still had to go to court to have their case resolved. After all, due to mediation, parties may have the information necessary to take the next step in the court case, and each party’s position may be clearer and more defined to where eventual settlement talks can occur in the future. Their mediation may even have been the first step in a long process to rebuild their relationship and eventually  be able to solve their own conflicts without a court altogether.

Thoughts on how you define a successful mediation?

Tags:  mediation 

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Donita M. King says...
Posted Tuesday, August 1, 2017
If the parties arrive at a better, more accurate understanding of the other party's view point, and how their own view point is perceived by third parties and the opposing party, something has been accomplished during the mediation. This is often the first step leading to settlement, even if after the mediation session.
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Joan S. Morrow says...
Posted Tuesday, August 1, 2017
As with so many things in life, "success" is often in the eye of the beholder. I agree with what you, Marina and Donita, have said, particularly as it relates to mediations with pro se parties involved in family mediations who may have continuing relationships after their immediate dispute is resolved. I mediate exclusively employment matters with all parties represented by counsel and where the only remaining relationship in most of them is the litigation. In terms of the goal of mediation: I believe it is to either settle the case or to determine that it can't be settled at the present time after each side has exchanged information, legal positions and offers; if both sides have stretched as far as they can and they can't reach agreement, then the settlement talks have been exhausted. In terms of what is a successful mediation: it is true that a settlement at mediation will feel more successful to the parties and the mediation; however, there are certainly mediations where cases settle but people leave angry or upset, either with themselves, their lawyers, the mediator or the process.
Which is why a long time ago I began to define a "successful mediation" as one where the case settles AND the parties feel good about the choice they made, the process by which they made it and the lawyer and mediator that assisted them; it's not the perfect outcome, but it is one that makes sense to them, all things considered.
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