This study assesses a mediation program in one county in each of four states - Florida, Nevada, New Mexico and North Carolina - and compares them to non-program counties. Through an examination of court records and survey data, the author found that time to disposition was quicker in three of the four mediation program counties than in the non-program counties, that the cost to the parties was lower in three of the four, and that satisfaction rates were higher and perception of fairness was greater in mediation program counties.
Description of Study: Looked at the effects of mediation and traditional court processing on litigants’ views of dispute resolution and outcomes of divorce cases in Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, and North Carolina.
Method: Examined three sources of data: court and mediation case records, telephone interviews of disputants, questionnaires mailed to attorneys. Compared a court with a court-based mediation program with a court without one in each state. The study sample included all cases referred to mediation during selected time period from 1988-1990. Samples in comparison courts were composed of all divorce cases in which custody was an issue.
Comparison Groups: Mediated cases from counties with programs and cases from matched counties without programs
Sample Size: Ranged from 65 to 196 mediated cases and 12 to 53 litigants at each program site, 73 to 137 cases and 13 to 58 litigants at each matched site
Variables Examined: Perceived fairness of the process, satisfaction with the agreement, the number of hearings held, time to disposition, cost to parties (attorney fees)
Program Variables: Two programs (New Mexico and Florida) were mandatory with mediations conducted by staff without charge to the parties. One program (North Carolina) was mandatory with mediations conducted by volunteers off-site without charge to the parties. One program (Nevada) was voluntary with mediations conducted by staff for a fee. All programs had been put in place several years before the study commenced.
Findings: Mediation participants (parties) were more likely to find the process to be fair (73% compared with 55%). Mediation participants (parties) were more satisfied with their agreement than those in adjudication (70% compared with 52%). Attorney responses did not significantly differ between the two processes.
Women gave more favorable ratings to mediation than to adjudication, and gave more favorable ratings to mediation over all than men did. Men's responses to mediation did not significantly differ from those to adjudication.
Mediation did not reduce the number of hearings held. Time to disposition was faster for mediated cases in 3 of 4 courts. Litigants reported lower attorney fees for mediated cases than adjudicated ones in 3 of 4 courts.