Mediation is usually initiated by a referral from a court, law enforcement agency, attorney or other source, or from a self-referral. All it takes is a phone call to the DRC to start the process.
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An intake specialist will speak with you to learn about the dispute, who is involved, how long it has been going on, and other important details. The other person involved is then contacted by the DRC staff and asked if s/he would be willing to participate in mediation to resolve the conflict. Since mediation is voluntary, the other party has the right to refuse to participate unless the court has ordered the parties into mediation. If the case is very simple, the DRC staff may work with the disputants to see if the situation can be resolved by phone communication with everyone involved.
If mediation is needed and all parties agree to participate, mediators are assigned to the case and a meeting date is set. The mediators come from all walks of life and all professions. They reflect the diversity of our community. They all must have a minimum of 36 hours of formal classroom training in mediation, pass an extensive written examination and then complete a supervised internship with experienced, certified mediators. Those who work with dissolution / family cases, group conflicts, and many other types of cases must have additional training and experience.
When the participants arrive for the mediation session, they are greeted and brought into the mediation room. The mediators carefully explain the procedures that will be followed and the steps of the mediation process. If all agree to proceed with the mediation process, they sign the Agreement to Mediate and the mediation session continues through the remaining stages.
Each party is encouraged to make an opening statement during which s/he identifies the issues and what is desired as a settlement. This is each party's time and is generally uninterrupted. The mediators reflect back the information given to them to make certain that they have the information correct. The mediators may ask some clarifying questions to gain further information. Each party is also given the opportunity to respond to what s/he has heard.
Once the opening statements are complete, the mediators and participants will create an agenda of the outstanding issues. These issues serve as a guide for the remainder of the session. The mediators then assist the participants in negotiating the outstanding issues directly with each other. The mediators may help them"think outside the box" in creating potential solutions, but the mediators do not impose a settlement of any kind upon the parties. They may ask some difficult questions to make sure the solutions and possible consequences have been thought through, but this process belongs to the participants, not the mediators.
When a settlement agreement is reached, it can be put in writing and signed, at which time it becomes legally binding. Sometimes parties want only a verbal agreement and choose to not have anything written down. Once a settlement agreement is reached, the mediation case file is considered closed.
Confidentiality is the cornerstone of mediation. Because mediation is confidential, it means that nothing a person has said or disclosed in the mediation can be used against them outside the mediation (with some legally required exceptions such as child abuse). Confidentiality also means that mediators will not talk to others about the case or even that they have participated in mediation. Additionally, the mediators cannot generally be subpoenaed or required to testify about the substance of the mediation session. The confidential nature of the mediation process creates a safe place for the participants to talk and to discuss and make offers they might not otherwise be comfortable making. The assurance of confidentiality facilitates communication that has broken down during and throughout the conflict, and allows the parties to find settlements that work for them.