Although mediation is much less formal than court, the mediation process generally involves six stages. Each stage is designed to assist the parties to identify the areas in dispute and help them to reach an agreement. However, the stages of mediation do not necessary proceed in sequential order. Rather, the mediation stages may skip around depending upon the progress of the mediation. Here's what you can expect.
First Stage of Mediation (Introduction):
Typically, the mediation will start with both parties together in the same room. During this initial mediation stage, the mediator will explain the process and the objective of the mediation. The mediator will provide an explanation of the ground rules for the mediation including an expectation of respectful and open discussion between the parties and an expectation that the parties will refrain from the interruption of one another.
Second Stage of Mediation (Position Statements):
In the Second Stage of Mediation, the mediator will allow each person to share their story. This is an opportunity to tell the mediator what they believe the disputed or unresolved issues are. Based upon the preference of the individuals or based upon the discretion of the mediator, the parties may either be kept together during each parties statement or separate the parties into different rooms to provide each individual the opportunity to share freely with the mediator.
The purpose behind each story is to help the mediator understand the disputed issues and determine where there may be common ground between the parties. It is not a search by the mediator for the truth. Rather, it is the mediator's responsibility to help the parties to reach an agreement.
Third Stage of Mediation (Joint Discussion):
During the Third Stage of Mediation, the parties will be encouraged to discuss with the mediator the information shared by the other party during their statement. The mediator will assist the parties to clarify their areas of agreement and disagreement. The mediator will help each party understand the opposing party's perception of the disputed issues.
Fourth Stage of Mediation (Problem Identification):
The Problem Identification of the Fourth State of Mediation will also be part of other stages of the mediation process. Here the mediator will attempt to find common ground between the parties and what issues can be first resolved.
Fifth Stage of Mediation (Bargaining & Generating Options):
During the Fifth State of Mediation, the mediator may assist the parties to generate settlement options through the formulation of hypothetical scenarios or proposals.
Similar to other stages of the mediation process, the mediator may hold private sessions with both parties to move the negotiations forward. This private session is confidential. This provides the parties a safe environment to brainstorm and discuss any fears or underlying thoughts they may have. The goal of the private session is to common ground between the parties through the exploration of the parties' options, and to discuss possible solutions. In the private mediation session the parties can thoroughly explore potential resolutions without committing themselves to any offer as a concession.
Sixth Stage of Mediation (Reaching Agreement):
The final stage of mediation is that of reaching an agreement. If the parties are able to reach an agreement on some or all of the disputed issues, the mediator will assist the parties to put the agreement into writing. If no agreement is reached, the mediator will point out areas progress has been made and advise the parties what their options going forward are. If progress has been made, it may be advantageous to schedule an additional mediation session.