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There are times when legal disputes can be settled fairly without going to court.

Mediation is a form of dispute resolution that is used when two or more parties cannot resolve their differences and agree to use an independent third party to arbitrate the dispute instead of taking the issue to court. Mediation is usually of a shorter duration, less costly, and can often be resolved successfully out of court.

Either party in the dispute can initiate the mediation process by asking the other party to participate. In such cases, the mediator agrees to meet with the disputing parties, together and individually, and try to encourage a voluntary settlement in an unbiased, non-coercive manner.

Since mediation is an informal process, there are usually no set rules or regulations, except those set by the mediator. Though not always required to be licensed, mediators should be professionally trained and experienced in the subject area of the dispute. A good mediator is able to recognize if the parties involved in the dispute cannot agree to mediation and suggest court action.

Mediation should be confidential and in most cases, the parties are required to sign confidentiality agreements and the information obtained should not be able to be used in subsequent court actions if a binding settlement is not reached.

The costs of mediating varies. It depends on who is chosen to do the mediation. If the mediation is done through a sponsored program, the costs may be minimal or free. Private mediators set their own rates, usually at a certain dollar amount per hour with a minimum number of hours required.

Fees are paid depending on the agreement between the parties. If there is an arbitration clause written into a contract and both parties initial it or agree to it in writing, the costs to mediate are often split 50/50. Each party can retain legal council to sit in on the mediation but they will have to pay the additional costs for their own attorney.

Mediators and mediation service referrals can be obtained through local courts, bar associations, a state's Department of Real Estate, local Boards of Realtors, a state's Department of Consumer Affairs, and other government agencies.

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