Not all disputes have to be resolved in a courtroom.
Residents in Genesee County can turn to mediation facilitated by the Community Resolution Center in Flint to solve certain issues.
The center regularly mediates disputes involving family differences, neighbor disagreements, property damage, business and contract disputes, landlord-tenant issues, contested wills and inheritance issues, school truancy, special education cases, divorces, custody and visitation issues, adult guardianship and more.
“Mediation is a low cost, time efficient process that supports people in conflict. Mediators are neutral third parties that facilitate an opportunity for people to help draft their own agreements that end their disputes. When people participate in resolving their own conflict there is a higher level of satisfaction and better chance of improved relationships, as well as having control of the outcome,” said Dayna Harper, executive director of the center.
They see a large number of domestic relations, including divorce and parenting time, breach of contract, landlord/tenant disputes and school problems.
More than 600 cases are mediated at the center each year, and 70 to 80 percent of cases reach a resolution. Most issues are resolved in one meeting.
The center first makes sure both parties agree to the mediation. Then they schedule a meeting, which usually takes one to two weeks. Each party will have an opportunity to express their thoughts and concerns without interruption, according to the center’s website.
It’s up to the participants to design a solution that works for both parties. Mediators help them talk constructively, not tell the parties what to do.
The mediators then write the agreement, which the participants sign. It becomes a legally binding agreement.
If the parties cannot come up with a solution, the issue could be taken to court.
It costs each party a $100 fee due prior to the mediation. Participants who cancel with less than 48 hours notice will be charged $25. Some programs, such as special education mediation, educational neglect and parenting time complaints do not require a fee.
The center is one of 18 non-profit mediation centers in Michigan primarily funded by the State Court Administrative Office of the Michigan Supreme Court in the state of Michigan. They receive additional funding through Special Education Mediation Services (SEMS) and rely on donations.
Judge Mark McCabe, who serves at the Fenton court, said “absolutely” mediation is a helpful tool. It’s already part of the court system.
“We have used it in the past for some cases that have been in our court, and if the case hasn’t been resolved after mediation, at least it gives everyone a very good idea of what the other side’s position is. It is valuable,” he said.
According to Michigan Court Rules, Chapter 8 — Administrative Rules of the Court, Rule 2.411 covers the law for court mediators. It outlines requirements for mediators, scheduling, settlement and more.
Similar to the Community Resolution Center, the parties reach an agreed upon conclusion and sign a legally binding contract in the court mediation process.
McCabe said the court’s mediation process isn’t necessarily a cost saver for taxpayers or the state, but it’s “certainly” a cost saver for the litigants. He’s referred cases to private mediation and to the Community Resolution Center.
“The beauty of mediation is that it guarantees that each side is the master of their own destinies. They’re deciding the outcome,” he said. “If either side doesn’t want to settle, then they can let the court system resolve it for them.”
On Wednesday, Aug. 7, the Michigan Supreme Court announced a new program called MI Resolve, an online mediation program, which helps individuals resolve issues typically filed as small claims, general civil or landlord-tenant cases in district court.
The system is currently only available for counties in east Michigan.
Genesee, Oakland and Livingston counties are not yet included.
Becoming a mediator
The Community Resolution Center has more than 70 volunteer mediators and offers training for those who wish to get involved. Mediators receive 40 hours of training for general civil mediation. They can take advanced courses to work on cases for domestic, special education or other specialized issues. The center requests the volunteers to mediate one case a month or more, depending on availability. Sessions are usually two to three hours long.
“Michigan Court Mediator Requirements include an approved 40-hour General Civil or Domestic Relations mediator training, plus additional educational requirements. Our mediators find this volunteer work to be personally rewarding; they not only help people settle their disputes, it is a challenging process where they utilize their own problem-solving skills and talents,” said Dayna Harper executive director of the Community Dispute Resolution Center.