1. I got a letter requesting that I participate in mediation. What does that mean?

This was what is usually called a request for mediation under the Iowa Code. It means that that you and another party has requested mediation with you. It can be a mandatory request, which under Iowa law encompasses the following ag mediation cases—farm mediation on debts greater than $20,000; care and feeding contracts where contract holders disagree on whether a contract is being implemented according to its terms; farm nuisance disputes where neighbors contend that animal feeding operations are violating their right to enjoy their homes; and voluntary mediation – where parties to a dispute can request mediation under the Iowa Code.

2. Just what is mediation? How does it work? Who pays? If requested, do I have to participate?

Mediation is a process where a trained third party “neutral” assists two or more people in negotiating a solution to their conflict. Simply, it is assisted negotiation. Mediation starts with a request for mediation. Parties are notified of the request, and the mediator works with the parties to determine how to proceed. Parties can choose to mediate or not mediate.

3. I received something from the court. It says something about a counseling is required before a divorce. Is mediation the same as counseling?

Family law procedures may vary across Iowa, so those seeking family law court orders or rulings (e.g. divorce decrees, child custody, etc) should work directly with their local court systems.  Iowa Mediation Service does not offer legal advice or create legal documents; however, IMS does provide services in situations involving family dynamics (e.g. post-divorce communication plans).

4. How do I prepare for mediation? What should I expect?

Preparation makes mediation work – parties need to identify what they want and need. They need to identify what their interests as well as what the underlying issues are. It may be important to talk with a mediator or check with a lawyer or counselor (financial or therapeutic) to determine how to proceed. Mediators come from different backgrounds, and they may have different views of their role and of the process, so it is crucial to speak with one before you decide how to proceed.

5. I’m afraid of the other party – he/she is abusive. Do I have to be in the same room with them?

The first step is to let the mediator know of your concern. Mediators take steps to protect the parties. Ground rules are established before the session. In many mediations the parties initially meet together to discuss ground rules and goals for the session. At this juncture, the parties can continue to meet jointly, or they can go to private sessions. If it is essential to have an on-going relationship (co-parenting or a work place dispute), it may be important to meet jointly so interaction is maximized. However, if there is an order of protection in place, you need to let the mediator know that as well so arrangements can be made to ensure your safety as well as your comfort. Ask the mediator what their practice looks like.

6. Is a mediation agreement legally binding?

Under the Iowa Code mediation agreements are like any other contract – they may have a binding effect. It is critical to note that mediators do not impose agreement on the parties – it is the parties’ choice to reach an agreement. Often a mediator will ask the parties if they want to sign a written agreement – any party may agree or choose not to sign. An oral agreement may not have as much of a binding effect, as parties often have different recollections. In these cases, it may still be left to a judge to determine how to proceed.

7. What is the average cost of mediation?

Fees for services vary depending upon the circumstances surrounding the situation (e.g. location, complexity of dispute, number of participants, etc).  Additionally, mediation cases can last from an hour to twenty hours or more. Therefore, contact Iowa Mediation Service if you wish to learn more about the fee structure; otherwise fees will be disclosed after submitting a form requesting mediation information.  Remember: in many cases, mediation can substitute for far more expensive legal proceedings.

8. Who can mediate in the state of Iowa?

As a general rule, Iowa Code does not specify who can mediate. However, certain mediation specialties (e.g. agriculture, divorce, etc) may require specific mediation certification requirements.  Additionally, all professional mediators are expected to receive training in the field of mediation and to be certified by specific organizations which include the Iowa Mediation Service, Inc., Iowa Association of Mediators, Academy of Family Mediators, Public Employment Relations Board, and various local court districts. Certification by one or more of these groups shows that the mediator has received formal training and usually has co-mediated with an experienced mediator before handling cases solo. None of these entities requires that a mediator be an attorney or have any other professional degree. Check with the organization to determine who is on their list of recognized mediators.