Business and family disputes can have many issues in common, not the least of which is the severing of the former emotional bonds that may have united the business owners or the spouses. The uncoupling process can be slow and stressful and, if a trial is required, very expensive. Another feature common to both kinds of uncoupling is the utility of hiring a mediator and using the mediation process as a way to resolve the conflict.
What is mediation?
Mediation is a dispute resolution process in which the opposite parties agree to meet with a trained mediator and use a process of discussion and open communication to resolve their differences. In a divorce, the issues may involve child custody, child support, alimony, and division of assets. In a business dispute, the issues may involve the future of the business, disputed transactions, and, occasionally, alleged illegal conduct.
How does mediation work?
The parties must first choose a person to act as the mediator. Most mediators have formal training in the mediation process, and they are usually adept at listening to and comprehending the views of both parties.
After the mediator is chosen, the parties usually submit a detailed description of their views on the various issues and their suggestions for resolving the issues. The mediator then schedules an initial meeting with the parties in which the parties make verbal statements to the mediator (and to the other side). The mediator usually asks questions of both parties to ensure that he and the other party understand the points being made.
The next step may vary depending upon the preference of the mediator. The mediator may meet separately with the parties and then resume the joint meeting. Usually, the mediator will make suggestions about how to resolve a particular issue.
The parties and the mediator will continue this back-and-forth discussion until all issues are resolved, some issues are resolved, or the mediator and the parties agree that no agreement is possible. If the parties reach an agreement, the mediator will draft a mediation agreement that contains the parties’ agreements.
Both parties will sign the document, and it will be submitted to the court for signature. Once the judge approves and signs the agreement, it becomes the order of the court, and both parties are bound by it.
An important reminder
A mediator has no legal authority to decide on any issue without the agreement of both parties. The parties can only be bound by the mediation if they both accept a proposed agreement. Anyone who may be interested in mediation, either as part of a divorce or as part of resolving a business dispute, may wish to consult an attorney who is knowledgeable about mediation.