Why mediate in small claims

If you and the other side think you may be able to agree if you have some help, think about working with a mediator. 

What does a mediator do?

A mediator is a person who works with both/all of you to look for creative ways to solve your disagreement. With mediation you can be more creative than the judge can in court because you can make agreements about things the judge can’t. 

There are many benefits to mediation

You have more time to talk

In court you have only 5 - 10 minutes to give the judge your side of the story. With mediation you often have an hour, or more, to talk to the other side while the mediator helps guide you. 

You can talk privately and be more open

Court hearings are open to the public. Everyone who is sitting in the courtroom will hear everything you say to the judge. Mediation is confidential and private, so the other party can't use what you say in mediation against you in court later. 

You can talk about and consider things not related to the law

In court the judge can only apply the law to the facts from your case that the law says they can. In mediation, you and the other side can also talk about non-legal things that are important to you and how you feel about the disagreement. 

If you might lose the case for a legal reason, you can still agree in mediation. For example, different types of cases have different deadlines for filing called the statute of limitations. If you open a small claims case after the deadline for your case type, the judge will have to apply the law and you will lose your case. In mediation you can still meet and solve your disagreement outside the law. 

Agreements can be more creative than judge's orders

A judge must decide whether one side owes the other money. In mediation, you and the other side can reach an agreement about more than money. For example, giving one side a chance to fix a problem, return things, or apologize. In mediation, you can create an agreement that works for everyone in the disagreement. 

  • Example: meditation outcome

    Your neighbor trimmed the branches from your tree that hang in their yard to get more sun in their yard. While doing that they trimmed some of the branches on your side of the fence, too. You sued them for the cost of a fully grown replacement tree at $10,000. In court a judge can only grant or deny what you asked for. 

    When you go to mediation, however, you might agree that your neighbor will install a nice awning on your window and room darkening blinds that keep out the afternoon sun at a cost of $2,000. 

It's easier to maintain a relationship with the other side

Solving an issue in court can be hard on a relationship. Court means that it is one side against another. But, in mediation, you try to work together. Mediation can help neighbor or family disagreements because those relationships are important or will go on. 

You both have a say in the outcome

When the judge makes a decision, at least 1 or both sides don't like the judge's order. In mediation, if both sides agree they are more likely to follow it than a court order made by a judge.  

You may be able to avoid a judgment on your credit report

If the judge decides you owe the other side money, there will be a judgment against you. It will show up on your credit report and could hurt your credit. In mediation, you can reach a private agreement with the other side. There is no court judgment, so your credit is not affected. 

How to find a mediator

  • County programs

    Many counties have mediation programs (also called dispute resolution programs) that provide free or low-cost mediation before or after a court case is opened. The Department of Consumer Affairs keeps a list of some local mediation programs

  • Court programs

    Many small claims courts offer free or low-cost mediation either before the hearing or on the day of the hearing. Talk to your small claims advisor or court clerk to find out more.  

  • Local bar association (attorney group)

    Contact your local bar association. To find a bar association in your area, contact the State Bar's Lawyer Referral Services program. (Type your county or region in the search box.)  

  • Online

    Mediators you pay for are available in most areas, and you can find them on the internet. Search for "Mediators" to find them. Their backgrounds and fees can be very different, so be sure to ask.

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