Mediation is one type of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) in which a neutral third party, the mediator, meets with the parties in a dispute to help them peacefully resolve their differences. The mediator acts only as a facilitator and does not have the power to make decisions or issue orders.
Unlike court proceedings, the mediation process is completely confidential. The parties are free to work out their own unique and sometimes very creative solutions to their problems and are not bound by procedural rules or case law, as a judge would be.
Best of all, they learn how to defuse or prevent future conflict. Whether it involves a divorcing couple deciding child custody and support issues or a recently laid off worker trying to prevent the bank from foreclosing on his home, mediation is a low-cost and effective way to empower people to resolve their differences on their own terms.
In Greenville County, mediation is required before a final order is issued in Family Court, Common Pleas Court (with some limited exceptions) and, since 2007, Probate Court. The result has been that many cases settle either during or soon after the mediation, thereby easing the courts’ caseloads and saving litigants time and money. Like many good ideas, however, mandatory mediation had an unintended consequence in that parties with little or no financial resources now faced an additional expense.
Private mediators in the Greenville area charge from $175 to $350 per hour, which can be prohibitive for many people. Thus was born the Upstate Mediation Center, a not-for-profit, tax-exempt organization which provides mediation services at a flat rate based on income and which does not refuse services because of an inability to pay.
The parties often do not have lawyers and are not familiar with the legal system. The UMC is unique in the Upstate; in fact, the only other similar organization in the state of South Carolina is located in Columbia.
The UMC uses trained lay and attorney mediators, all of whom generously volunteer their time and expertise.
Since its founding 10 years ago, countless UMC volunteers have helped literally thousands settle their differences. Due in large part to the current economic conditions, the demand for services has increased dramatically. Since 2009, the UMC had expanded its services and clients served at a rate of 10% per year.
The types of mediations offered at the UMC are as varied as the people who walk through the doors. Issues range from the allocation of property when a church membership divides to repairing family relationships that have been ruptured for generations.
In addition, to court-mandated mediations, the UMC is implementing new programs addressing the needs of people facing challenges caused by increased economic stresses.
All of this requires more mediators—people of diverse professional and community backgrounds who are willing to be trained in mediation skills and to volunteer a few hours a month or a year. It also requires increased financial support so that the UMC can continue to provide services at affordable rates.
Helping To Resolve Disputes
The Upstate Community Mediation Center is a non-profit organization that offers a voluntary alternative to the adversarial Court process by resolving disputes through use of mediation.