Comprehensive Guide to Mediation: How It Really Works

The Mediation Process Explained: How It Really Works

Mediation is an increasingly popular method for resolving disputes without requiring lengthy and costly litigation. But how does mediation work, and what happens during mediation? This article aims to demystify the mediation process, providing a clear and professional overview for those considering this alternative dispute resolution method.

What is Mediation?

Mediation is a voluntary, confidential process where a neutral third party, known as a mediator, assists disputing parties in reaching a mutually acceptable agreement. Unlike a judge or arbitrator, the mediator does not impose a decision but facilitates communication and negotiation between the parties.

The Mediation Process: Step-by-Step

1. Initiating Mediation

The mediation process typically begins when one party contacts a mediation center or a mediator. Both parties must agree to participate in the mediation process. In some cases, mediation may be court-ordered, but participation remains voluntary. If you’re considering mediation, contact a reputable mediation law firm like Resolve Wannon at 310-592-4359 to discuss your options.

2. Selecting a Mediator

The parties select a mediator, often with the assistance of their attorneys. The mediator should be impartial and experienced in the type of dispute at hand. In the U.S., various organizations may certify mediators, but there is no national regulatory body for mediators.

3. Pre-Mediation Preparation

Before the mediation session, the mediator will gather information about the dispute. This may include position statements from each party, relevant documents, and any other pertinent information. The mediator may also hold pre-mediation meetings with each party to understand their perspectives and prepare for the session.

4. The Mediation Session

The mediation session typically follows a structured format but remains flexible to accommodate the needs of the parties. Here’s what happens in mediation:

  • Opening Statements: The mediator introduces the process, sets ground rules, and allows each party to make an opening statement outlining their view of the dispute.
  • Joint Session: The parties engage in a joint session, facilitated by the mediator, to identify the issues and explore potential solutions.
  • Private Caucuses: The mediator may hold private sessions (caucuses) with each party to discuss their concerns and explore settlement options confidentially.
  • Negotiation: The mediator helps the parties negotiate, often using techniques such as reality testing and brainstorming to generate options for resolution.
  • Agreement: If the parties reach an agreement, the mediator assists in drafting a settlement agreement. This agreement can be legally binding if both parties agree to its terms.

5. Post-Mediation

If an agreement is reached, the parties may submit it to the court for approval, making it enforceable as a court order. If no agreement is reached, the parties retain the right to pursue other legal remedies, including litigation.

Mediation Advantages

Mediation offers several advantages over traditional litigation:

  • Cost-Effective: Mediation is generally less expensive than going to court.
  • Time-Saving: Mediation can resolve disputes more quickly than litigation.
  • Confidential: Mediation sessions are private, and the discussions are not disclosed in court.
  • Control: The parties retain control over the outcome, rather than having a decision imposed by a judge.
  • Preserve Relationships: Mediation fosters cooperative problem-solving, which can help maintain or even improve relationships between the parties.

California Mediation Laws

California has specific laws governing mediation, primarily found in the California Evidence Code Sections 703.5 and 1115 to 1129. These laws establish the confidentiality of mediation and limit the disclosure, admissibility, and a court’s consideration of communications, writings, and conduct in connection with a mediation.

Key Provisions:

  • Confidentiality: All communications, negotiations, or settlement offers in the course of a mediation must remain confidential (Evidence Code § 1119).
  • Informed Consent: As of January 1, 2019, California law requires attorneys to obtain informed consent from their clients regarding mediation confidentiality (Senate Bill 954, Evidence Code § 1129).
  • Mediator’s Role: A mediator cannot testify in any subsequent civil proceeding about any communication or conduct occurring at, or in connection with, a mediation (Evidence Code § 703.5).

Mediation vs. Settlement Conference

While mediation and settlement conferences are both forms of alternative dispute resolution, they have distinct differences:

  • Mediation: Involves a neutral third-party mediator who facilitates communication and negotiation between the parties to help them reach a mutually acceptable agreement. Mediation is confidential, and the mediator cannot testify about the mediation in court (Evidence Code § 1119).
  • Settlement Conference: Typically conducted by a judge or a court-appointed officer who helps the parties negotiate a settlement. Settlement conferences are not confidential, and the judge can communicate with the court about the proceedings (Evidence Code § 1152).

When Does Mediation Become a Settlement Agreement?

A mediation becomes a settlement agreement when the parties reach a mutually acceptable resolution and put the terms in writing. This written agreement, known as a mediation settlement agreement, must include:

  • Identifying the Parties Involved: The agreement must identify the individuals or entities who are parties to the agreement.
  • Terms of the Resolution: The agreement must outline the specific terms of the resolution, including any actions to be taken, the responsibilities and obligations of the parties, and any compensation or payments that are part of the settlement.
  • Date and Signature: The agreement must include the date it was signed and the signature of each party, indicating their agreement to the terms outlined in the document.
  • Consideration: The agreement must state that each party is receiving something of value in exchange for the promises made in the agreement.
  • Governing Law: The agreement must specify the jurisdiction whose laws will govern the interpretation and enforcement of the agreement.
  • Dispute Resolution: The agreement may include provisions for resolving disputes that may arise in the future, such as arbitration or the requirement to participate in mediation.
  • Termination Provisions: The agreement must specify under what circumstances the agreement can be terminated or modified.

Once signed, the mediation settlement agreement is a binding contract and can be enforced in a court of law if necessary.

Mediation: Frequently Asked Questions

Is Mediation Legally Binding?

Yes, a mediation agreement becomes legally binding when both parties agree to its terms and, if necessary, submit it to the court for approval.

When considering mediation as a method to resolve disputes, it is essential to understand the legal implications. If you’re wondering whether a mediation agreement is legally binding, find out more here. This information can help ensure that all parties involved are aware of their rights and obligations during the mediation process.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Mediation?

No, but having a lawyer can be beneficial. Lawyers can provide legal advice, help prepare for mediation, and review any agreements reached. At Resolve Wannon, our experienced mediation attorneys can guide you through the entire process.

How Long Does Mediation Take?

The duration of mediation varies depending on the complexity of the dispute. Some cases may be resolved in a single session, while others may require multiple sessions over several days or weeks.

What Happens if Mediation Fails?

If mediation does not result in an agreement, the parties can still pursue other legal options, including litigation. The discussions during mediation remain confidential and cannot be used in court.

How Much Does Mediation Cost?

Mediation costs vary based on the mediator’s fees, the complexity of the case, and the number of sessions required. Generally, mediation is more cost-effective than litigation.


Mediation is a flexible, confidential, and cost-effective method for resolving disputes. By understanding how mediation works and what happens during mediation, parties can make informed decisions about whether this process is right for them. Whether you’re dealing with a business dispute, a family matter, or any other conflict, mediation offers a collaborative path to resolution that can save time, money, and relationships.

For more information or to schedule a mediation session with our experienced team, contact Resolve Wannon at 310-592-4359. Let us help you navigate your dispute with professionalism and expertise.