There is a famous quote by Ronald Reagan, “Peace is not the absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceable means.” Conflict is one of life’s constants. You did not get your security deposit back from the landlord. As a divorcing couple, you want to decide how to split marital assets. Your neighbor insists on practicing their drums late into the night. Many conflicts are quickly resolved, but others are more of a challenge. Emotions can quickly get in the way of a rational request and conversation. Mediation is often the answer to finding a resolution. A mediator will not provide legal advice and they will not decide the outcome of the dispute. They will, however, put the conflicting parties in control of the outcome by facilitating a conversation that will lead to a settlement. That settlement will not be perfect, but will satisfy both sides.
Once you have decided mediation might work, the question becomes how do you find a mediator? If you have a case that has been filed in court you have the option of requesting mediation prior to a trial. In Maryland District Court you can make that request on the forms you file. By checking the request for Alternative Dispute Resolution box, the ADR Office will contact you and facilitate the assignment of a mediator from an approved roster. In the Circuit Court, the judge may order parties to mediation and assign a mediator
You can also go directly to the Court’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Resource Guide at mdcourts.gov/macro/adr-resourceguide. On the webpage, you can use a searchable database of private mediators who have experience with your specific situation. Or use the county guides to find a community mediation program in your area. These programs are located across the state and have a roster of trained and approved mediators. You can contact these programs directly. Simply Google “community mediation near me.”
You can also find a mediator in private practice. One resource is www.mediate.com. That site allows a search by area code and by mediation topic. Remember, you and the other party must agree on who will serve as the private practice mediator. Last, if you have an attorney, ask them to provide a referral.
As you select a mediator there are questions you will want to ask. Ask the mediator to describe the process and what you can expect during mediation. Ask about the length of a typical session and where it will take place. Are on-line sessions via Zoom available? Does the potential mediator have experience with your type of case? You should also ask about cost. Private practice mediators will typically charge an hourly fee for their time. Court-based mediation programs have set fees or, in the case of District Court, are free. Community mediation centers generally offer their services for free or on a sliding scale.
The first step, that is deciding to use mediation to settle a dispute is the most important. Once that joint decision is made, there are many resources to help you find a mediator to help.
Steve Forrer, former dean and vice chancellor of University of Maryland Global Campus, is currently a mediator for the Maryland District and Circuit Courts. Questions can be submitted at www.doncastermediation.com/contact for Steve to answer in this column. He also accepts private mediations