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Small Claims Mediation in California

Camila Lopez - Mediation - December 28, 2022

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    Are you looking for more information on small claims mediation in California?

    In this article you will learn about:

    • What is mediation?

    • Why mediate?

    • How does mediation work?

    • Mediation options in California

    What is Mediation?

    Mediation is a meeting between you and the other party to talk about the dispute and try to find an out of court solution to the dispute. The mediation is overseen by a neutral person called the mediator. You and the person will meet with a mediator, discuss your dispute, and try to reach a mutually beneficial solution.

    Here are some key facts about small claims mediation:

    • The mediator will ask you questions about the dispute, make sure both you and the other party have an opportunity to speak, and organize the meeting so it is a productive use of your time to maximize the chances of coming to an agreement.

    • The other person must agree to mediation and it cannot be forced on them.

    • The mediator will not decide your case, but rather help you and the other party reach a solution. If you come to an agreement, you will be able to close your small claims lawsuit if you already filed the lawsuit.

    • Mediations typically last about an hour.

    Why Mediate?

    There are a few reasons why mediation is a great alternative to going to court (or a great addition after filing a lawsuit).

    • You might get paid faster. When you file a lawsuit, you have to wait for a judge to decide the outcome of your case. You can choose to mediate before filing the lawsuit or after the lawsuit is filed. If mediation is successful, you can get paid faster. Otherwise, you will have to wait for the judge to decide your small claims lawsuit. Once you win in small claims, you have to wait for the other party to pay you. If the other party does not pay you, you have to take proactive steps to get them to pay (go to court again, have the sheriff take money out of their bank account or wages).  

    • Confidentiality. Everything you say in court is public information. Mediation is private and confidential. This means that anything you say during a mediation can't be used against you in court later on.

    • Risk of losing. If you go to court there is always a risk that you may lose your lawsuit. If you have been sued or you have been countersued by the person you are suing, you might get a judgement against you. Judgement are public records and will be available for credit companies to use on your credit report.

    • Use of the law. In court, the judge will use the law to decide your case. If you use mediation, the mediator will try to convince you to keep "the law" out of the conversation but rather discuss what is going on between you and the other person or business. The mediator will focus the conversation on how to come to an agreement rather than establish who is right and who is wrong.

    • Informal. Mediation is friendlier and even more informal than the hearing with the judge. This environment can sometimes lead to a quick resolution between the parties.

    • Mediation is low stakes. Even if you agree to mediate your case, this does not mean you will need to come to an agreement. If you do not come to an agreement, you can still have a hearing with a judge.  

    Sometimes mediation is not the best option. In order to mediate, the other party needs to agree to join the mediation. If the other party does not want to mediate or it is difficult to reach them, mediation will not be possible. You will always have the option of using the small claims court process.

    How does mediation work?

    A typical mediation goes as follow:

    1. The mediators will introduce themselves and walk you through different rules and guidelines to keep the mediation productive. For example, don't speak over each other, who will get to speak first, etc.

    2. Each mediator has a different process, but in most mediations, each party will have a period of time to tell their side of their story. The mediator will ask question and clarify everything each party says. Make sure to listen carefully and don't interrupt.

    3. After each party provides their side of the story, the mediators will allow both of you to talk to each other and try to reach an agreement. Mediators will help guide the conversation to an agreement.

    4. If an agreement is reached, the mediators will help you prepare a settlement agreement that can be signed by both you and the other party.

    5. If you use the court mediators, you can ask the judge to set a "compliance" hearing. This hearing can be used to ensure that the other party complied with their part of the settlement agreement. If the other party complied with the agreement, then the lawsuit will be closed. If the other party did not comply with the settlement agreement, the settlement agreement will turn into a "judgment" (a decision by the court and an order to pay you money).

    Mediation Options in California Small Claims

    1. The Court Mediators: Most courts in California provide a free mediation option for your small claims court case. Even if you don't want to mediate, you might be asked to mediate before the hearing by the court.  If you want to use the court mediators and need to file a small claims court case, you can use People Clerk to help you prepare for small claims.

    2. Non-Profit Mediators: In each county, there are different non-profit mediators that provide free or low-cost mediations services. You can use these services after or before you file your small claims court case. You can search on Google to look for mediation non-profits in your area.

    3. Private Mediators: You always have the option to hire a private mediator to help you with your dispute. Keep in mind that hiring a private mediator can be expensive.

    Haven't been able reach an agreement using mediation? Get help with your small claims court case with People Clerk.


    Camila Lopez

    Legal Educator @ People Clerk. Camila holds a law degree and is a certified mediator. Her passion is breaking down complicated legal processes so that people without an attorney can get justice.

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