As you travel through the civil legal system, remember this important word: mediation. You’ll be glad you did.
Mediation (frequently also called “alternative dispute resolution”) is where a third person (called a “mediator) hears both sides and then makes suggestions about how to resolve the dispute. The mediator is neutral and he/she doesn’t take sides. He/she also doesn’t decide the dispute—only the parties themselves can do that by agreeing to settle without a trial. However, the mediator offers perspective on how good a case each party has. In most instances, mediating a dispute results in the dispute being resolved or settled. In order for that to happen, the parties need to compromise—that is, understanding that no case is completely foolproof and agreeing to get part, but not all, of what you want. If you agree to compromise, you control how the dispute gets resolved. Otherwise, you let someone—a judge or judicial referee who doesn’t know you—make a decision that you might not like and which could create more problems than the decision solves.
The vast majority of cases in the civil legal system get settled and resolved through mediation.
The court system offers mediation for some kinds of disputes. Low or no cost mediation is available through several non-profit mediation centers: mediationservice.org; disputeresolutioncenter.org; communitymediations.org; law.hamline.edu; and crcminnesota.org.
It is almost always faster and cheaper to mediate a dispute (whether it is a civil case or family law) than it is to take the case “all the way” to a trial or hearing.