One way to think of mediation is “assisted negotiation.”  A neutral person tries to help parties settle their litigation.  

Sometimes a court in the United States will encourage or even order parties to try mediation.  But courts and mediators cannot force parties to settle.

If the mediation is successful and the parties reach an agreement, they will usually put their agreement in writing as “a settlement agreement.”  The settlement agreement is a contract and may be enforced by a court.  So let’s say Patty sues David for $1,000.  Mary acts as a mediator and helps Patty and David resolve the dispute.  If David agrees to settle the dispute with Patty for $400 the case is over but David is contractually obligated to pay $400. 

Mediators use different strategies which I’ll talk about in a post shortly.