The following list of studies have been selected to provide reliable information on the effectiveness of community mediation or the processes that centers use, as well as information that can help centers to better address issues surrounding the provision of services. These include screening for intimate partner violence, conducting intake, mediation training and more.
Evaluations and Research of ADR Effectiveness
Beyond Agreement: The Critical Impact of Community Mediation (2017)
This short article discusses the results of a cost-benefit analysis conducted of the services provided by Hawaii’s state-funded community mediation centers. The study found that “the net long-term impact of the mediation and dispute resolution services provided by the mediation centers in FY16-17 amounted to $9,914,000. This amount was based on savings in community support costs, reductions in community medical care expenses, savings in housing and support costs and savings in community law enforcement, court systems and other governmental agency costs.”
Mediation of Interpersonal Disputes: An Evaluation of North Carolina's Programs (1993)
This in-depth study evaluated three of the nineteen community mediation programs in North Carolina. It focused on misdemeanor cases involving court-referred interpersonal disputes. It found that participants were very satisfied with the mediation process in these cases and recommended that intake procedures were improved in order to increase program usage.
Mediation and Adjudication in the Small Claims Court: The Effects of Process and Case Characteristics (1995)
The study described in this article attempted to discover the reason for differences in effectiveness between small claims cases that were adjudicated and those that were mediated in four district courts in the Boston area. After comparing case characteristics, the author determined that the differences were based upon the processes themselves rather than the characteristics of the disputes and disputants using each procedure.
Freeing the Parties from the Law: Designing an Interest and Rights Focused Model of Landlord/Tenant Mediation (1997)
Defending mediation from critiques that mediation hurts the poor and disempowered by ignoring the legal rights put in place to protect them, the authors point to research that finds that in landlord/tenant cases mediation better serves the interest of the tenants than adjudication. This is derived from a study comparing the experiences of tenants whose cases were mediated to those whose cases were not. The study found that in non-mediated cases, landlords were more likely to be granted possession and less likely to have any conditions placed on them. Further, mediation reduced the likelihood of having an execution issue against the tenant.
The Charlottesville Mediation Project: Mediated and Litigated Child Custody Disputes (1989)
This randomized control trial study found a higher agreement rate and shorter time to settlement for mediated cases. It also found that men felt mediation addressed their interests better than litigation, while women felt the opposite.
Divorce Mediation: Research and Reflections (2001)
This is a follow-up to the Charlottesville Mediation Project Study. This study found that noncustodial parents assigned to mediation reported more frequent current contact with their children and greater involvement in current decisions about them. Parents in the mediation group also reported more frequent communication about their children during the period since dispute resolution. In addition, parents who mediated made more changes to their agreement over twelve years: 1.4 as compared to 0.3. Party satisfaction remained higher for the mediation group after twelve years than for the non-mediation group.
The Child Custody and Visitation Program in North Carolina: An Evaluation of Its Implementation and Effects (2000)
This comparative study examined cases in counties with mandatory mediation and cases in which court-connected mediation wasn’t available. It found no difference in time to disposition, trial rate or long-term satisfaction with the outcome. Parents who mediated had higher long-term satisfaction with the process. Attorneys for parents who mediated believed they spent less time and money on the case.
Evaluation of the University of Denver's Center for Separating and Divorcing Families: The First Out-of-Court Option (2017)
This is an evaluation of the Resource Center for Separating and Divorcing Families, the first U.S. alternative dispute resolution model to provide legal dispute resolution, therapeutic, education, and financial services to separating and divorcing families.
What We Know Now: Findings from Dependency Mediation Research (2009)
This article presents the findings of studies conducted up to 2009. The studies show that mediation programs have difficulty getting referrals, but that when cases do end up in mediation, mediation is largely successful in leading to agreement. It also succeeds in getting parents more engaged in the parenting plan, engaging the extended family and enhancing communication. There is some initial evidence that parental compliance with parenting plans is increased through mediation, but further research is needed to confirm this.
An Evaluation of Child Protection Mediation in Five California Courts (1997)
This comparative study found that fewer mediated cases required a contested six-month review hearing, as compared to those not mediated. Almost all parents felt they had a chance to talk about issues important to them and most preferred mediation to court. At six months post-disposition, mediated cases showed better compliance with the treatment plan than the control group.
Child Protection Mediation: An Evaluation of Services Provided by Cook County Juvenile Court (2010)
This study examined both the process and outcomes of a single site program, including participant experience and stakeholder views of the program. It found that the program had a high agreement rate, parents viewed mediation very positively, believing they had a better chance to express their point of view than in other forums and that they had an equal chance to talk. Professionals believed mediation helped move the case forward.
Improving an Effective Program: A Comprehensive Evaluation of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia Child Protection Mediation Program (2018)
The evaluation found that the program was effectively achieving its goals, including increasing the probability of a parent stipulating prior to trial, enhancing parents’ understanding of their responsibilities and of others’ perspectives, enhancing professionals’ understanding of the parents’ situations and the perspective of others at the table, and making progress on the issues in the case. Although the program is effective, the professionals and mediators were frustrated with aspects of the process. Using the focus group discussions, judge interviews and staff insights, as well as case and mediation data, the evaluation led to a number of recommendations to improve the program process.
Alaska's Adult Guardianship Mediation Project Evaluation (2001)
This study of the first year of a statewide program found a high-resolution rate, high satisfaction and a possible reduction in the number of hearings held.
A Summary of the Evaluations of Six California Victim Offender Reconciliation Programs (2000)
This evaluation of six countywide juvenile victim-offender mediation programs in California found that restitution collected from mediation participants exceeded that collected from the comparison group by more than 40% in five of six counties. The recidivism rate of mediation participants was at least 10% lower than that of comparison group in five of six counties. More than 90% of participants in all programs were very satisfied. Completion of the program ranged from 71% to 93%.
The Effectiveness of Restorative Justice Practices: A Meta-Analysis (2001)
Findings from studies comparing the efficacy of restorative justice programs to traditional court programs are examined in this study. The analysis indicates that restorative justice programs have a significant, positive impact on victim and offender satisfaction and on restitution compliance. There appears to be no real impact on the rate of recidivism.
Research that Can Inform Practice
The following research topics are useful for helping to ensure that the services provided are the most effective.
How Program Or Progress Characteristics Affect Outcomes And Efficiency
A Randomized Control Trial of Child-Informed Mediation (2013)
This study compares child-focused (CF) mediation and child-inclusive (CI) mediation to standard family mediation. The study found that CF and CI mediations led to agreement provisions that were seen to be more likely to promote the well-being of the child, but did not increase the likelihood of settlement or parental satisfaction.
Child-Informed Mediation Study Follow-Up: Comparing the Frequency of Relitigation Following Different Types of Family Mediation (2015)
In this follow-up to the previous study, the researchers found that both child-informed processes (CI and CF) resulted in fewer motions, orders and hearings in the two years following case resolution than did traditional mediation. Additionally, researchers found that agreements that addressed issues such as parental communication and interparental conflict were less likely to return to court than cases with agreements that did not address those issues.
Timing is Everything: The Appropriate Timing of Case Referrals to Mediation: A Comparative Study of Two Courts (2001)
This study looked at two demographically similar counties, James City County and York County, Virginia, to determine if there was any empirical evidence demonstrating that early intervention mediation resulted in a greater number of successfully mediated cases than the more traditional approach of referring parties to mediation at the preliminary hearing. The study found that in James City County, which utilized early-intervention mediation, 72.9% of the 105 petitions accepted for mediation resulted in a mediated agreement, compared to an agreement rate of 39.5% in York County (which utilized the more traditional method of referral). Further, 14.3% of the 105 petitions in James City County were adjudicated by the court, while York County experienced an adjudication rate of 59%. York County also had almost five times more court hearings than James City County.
What Mediator Behaviors Are Most Effective
ABA Section of Dispute Resolution Report of the Task Force on Research on Mediator Techniques (2017)
This report looked at 50 studies that examined the effect of mediator techniques and actions on (1) settlement and related outcomes; (2) disputants’ relationship or ability to work together and their perceptions of the mediator, the mediation process, or the outcome; and (3) the attorneys’ perceptions of the mediation. The studies provide no clear guidance about which techniques will have a positive effect on outcomes and which will be detrimental. However, four categories of techniques were found to have the potential to increase the probability of settlement and improve party relationships and perception of the mediation. Each of the four focuses on the parties in some way.
What Works in Child Access Mediation: Effectiveness of Various Mediation Strategies on Custody Cases and Parents’ Ability to Work Together (2016)
The researchers found that when more time was spent in caucus, the parties were less likely to believe that they could work with the other party to resolve their conflict or that they had multiple options for resolving it. Additionally, eliciting participant solutions had the most positive impact on the participants, and participants were more likely to say they understood the other party, were clear about their own desires and that their underlying issues had been revealed.
Caucus with Care: The Impact of Pre-Mediation Caucuses on Conflict Resolution (2007)
A study of 1,381 labor and family mediations was conducted in the Netherlands. Mediators completed questionnaires immediately after mediation. The questionnaires focused on the use of caucus before and during mediation and on three outcomes at the end of mediation: whether agreement was reached, whether interpersonal conflict was reduced and whether goal compatibility between the parties was increased. The study found that pre-mediation caucuses were most successful when they focused on trust-building because doing so reduced interpersonal conflict. On the other hand, using caucuses to push parties to accept a settlement proposal led to increased post-mediation conflict and had no impact on settlement.
Process Matters: Disputant Satisfaction in Mediated Civil Cases (2008)
In research based upon a survey of parties in small claims mediations in New Mexico, satisfaction was found to be related to process factors that are tied to mediator behaviors and skills. Structural factors, such as gender, ethnicity or attorney presence did not affect party satisfaction. The conclusion the researchers drew from this is that party satisfaction with mediation is in the hands of the mediators.
Issues Surrounding Intimate Partner Violence
Analysis of Mediation Agreements of Families Reporting Specific Types of Intimate Partner Abuse (2001)
The article focuses on reporting and analyzing information gathered from a study concerning the identification and effect of Intimate Partner Abuse (IPA) on mediation. The study quantified the frequency of different behaviors categorized as IPA (psychological abuse, physical abuse, escalated physical abuse, sexual abuse). The study’s findings lead the authors to emphasize that mediators should assess the psychological impact of IPA on the victim's ability and desire to fairly negotiate a long-term legal agreement and should focus on ensuring that parents are aware of the psychological consequences of IPA for all members of the family, along with how to remedy the impact of abuse.
Comparing the Mediation Agreements of Families with and without a History of Intimate Partner Violence (2001)
In this study, researchers coded family mediation agreements from a law school mediation clinic according to whether or not there was a history of intimate partner violence (IPV). Researchers hypothesized that certain issues would be more or less likely to appear in agreements from families with IPV than from those without. The researchers found no significant difference in issues such as custody or parenting-time arrangements. However, families with a history of IPV were more likely to include safety restrictions and counseling referrals.
Detection of Intimate Partner Violence and Recommendation for Joint Family Mediation: A Randomized Controlled Trial of Two Screening Measures (2015)
This study compares the frequency at which ADR program staff are able to identify high-risk couples with a history of intimate partner violence (IPV) based on whether they used an instrument that asked specific behavioral questions (MASIC) or an instrument that included only broader questions. The study found that parties were more likely to report physical violence using the MASIC screen.
How Participants Experience Mediation
The Physiologic Stress Response During Mediation (2017)
Individuals undergoing physiological stress during mediation may experience anger, selective attention and biased memories. As a result, these individuals may be more susceptible to misinterpreting the mediator or other parties during mediation, have feelings of preservation and may have difficulty with problem solving. To combat these stressors, the authors suggest mediators build trust and rapport with the parties (through small talk, active listening and open body language), remind parties that they are the decision makers, acknowledge and normalize stress triggers and model calm behavior themselves. The authors also recommend modifying the structure of mediation to start with early caucuses (to allow parties sufficient time to de-stress and decrease cortisol levels) and schedule decision-making portions of mediation later in the day.
Communication Strategies That Are Most Effective
Overcoming Barriers to Mediation in Intake Calls to Services: Research-Based Strategies for Mediators (2013)
In this study, the author analyzed recordings of 200 intake calls for neighbor disputes at community mediation programs. The article describes several "barriers to mediation" in these calls which led some callers to decline to mediate.
When Training Methods Are Most Effective
Games, Claims, and New Frames: Rethinking the Use of Simulation in Negotiation Education (2013)
Role-play simulations have long been considered an effective tool for training mediators. In this article, the authors review dozens of studies on the effectiveness of simulations to evaluate how beneficial role-play simulations are in practice and find only partial support for simulation effectiveness