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Mediation is a voluntary process, so it lasts as long as the mediator and participants agree it is worthwhile. It works best when all parties to a dispute agree to participate. Occasionally when there are multiple parties, mediation can be useful even if all parties do not participate. Mediation can occur before or after a lawsuit has been filed.

Once you and the other parties have agreed to try mediation, you or your lawyers contact a mediator to discuss how she will handle the mediation. Some of the questions you or your lawyer may wish to ask the mediator include: Do you encourage active participation of the plaintiff and the defendant? Do you encourage joint sessions or rely primarily on caucuses? Mediators have different styles and through questioning you can determine if the fit will work well.
spacer Once the mediator agrees to take a case, she sends an Agreement to Participate in Mediation to the lawyers or if there are no lawyers involved, to the individuals. This agreement is a contract, which will be signed by the mediator and all the participants. It describes the confidentiality, the stages of mediation, the fees, and other aspects of the process. Usually the fees and expenses are split equally among the parties.

At the end of the mediation if there is a resolution, usually the mediator or the lawyers write a short description of the agreement and the parties and their lawyers sign it. If the parties are considering a possible resolution at the end of the mediation, there will be follow-up telephone calls between the mediator and the lawyers or the parties. Ultimately, the parties will either agree to a resolution or they will not reach an agreement and will return to where they were before the mediation started. When the parties sign a written settlement agreement, it becomes a legally enforceable contract.
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