What is mediation? As explained by the Georgia Commission on Dispute Resolution (GODR):
Mediation is a process in which a mediator helps parties negotiate their differences with an eye toward resolution and settlement. The mediator has no authority to make a decision or impose a settlement upon the parties, but instead tries to empower the parties to make the decisions themselves. The mediator does that by focusing the parties on their needs and interests rather than on their rights and positions. Although in court, the parties may be ordered to attend a mediation session, they are not required to settle their case in mediation. If the parties are unable or unwilling to settle in mediation, their case returns to the court for trial; the parties lose none of their rights to a jury trial.
Who is the mediator? The mediator is a trained individual who is able to fully implement the above guidelines; ensuring a self-determinative process. Training in Georgia is rigorous. Trained mediators undergo 28 hours of General/Civil mediation training which includes practicums. The General/Civil must be taken before taking the domestic mediation training. Domestic mediation training is a 42 hour course and also includes a practicum component. Then, there is a domestic violence component (separate from the domestic training) which qualifies a mediator to be involved in cases with domestic violence. This training certifies the individual as a mediator. The mediator is encouraged then to register with the GODR, which requires continuing education credit in order to maintain the standing. All court associated mediators must be certified and registered with the GODR. Mediators are trained, educated and required to adhere to a strict guidelines of ethics which benefit all families they work with.
What is a self-determinative process? It is a process guided by a trained neutral who assists the parties in working through their issues and coming to their own decisions. As I have italicized above, the mediator does this by focusing on the needs of the parties rather than on their rights and legal positions. This can be difficult, especially when parties are represented by lawyers. Using a trained mediator can ensure that the parties have the opportunity to focus on solutions rather than focusing on what a Judge may do or who may have the winning argument. For many lawyers, this can be very difficult to understand and implement. But for families, it can be a great venue to prevent further damage.
When selecting a mediator, many lawyers choose individuals who have years of experience in domestic matters, but are not trained mediators. This is perfectly fine, so long as your client is made aware of the fact that the lawyer is not a trained mediator and that the mediation process may not be as described above. Having years of experience in domestic law may be great for a late case evaluation, but may miss the mark in giving the parties a true shot a finding their own resolution.
All mediators who have undergone the intense training described in this blog and who are certified can be found at www.godr.org.