The relationship between courts and community mediation can be described using two factors: case referrals and funding. Interestingly, these two factors may or may not be correlated with one another. For example, some courts may refer cases to community mediation programs but not provide funding from the court to the program.
Court Case Referrals
The flow of cases from court to community mediation can be understood in terms of how cases are referred, what kinds of cases are referred, where referred cases are mediated and when in the life of a referred case mediation happens.
How Are Cases Referred to Community Mediation?
Case referrals from court to community mediation may be mandatory or voluntary. Entire groups of cases may be referred simply based on the type of case, such as all post-decree parenting disputes. Others may be selected based on particular criteria. For example, courts might refer only those misdemeanor cases involving people who have an ongoing relationship, such as friends, family or neighbors. In yet other situations, the court may select individual cases in which the disputants do not have an ongoing relationship, such as small claims cases in which there seems to have been a miscommunication between consumers and merchants.
What Types of Cases Are Handled by Community Mediation?
Courts and community mediation centers generally agree upon the types of cases that will be referred. These include many of the case types described under “What Types of ADR Processes are Used in Community Mediation?” Most often, courts refer civil, criminal, juvenile and family cases to community mediation.
- Civil matters are most likely to be small claims, such as landlord/tenant, consumer/merchant, and debt collection cases. Some community mediation centers handle other civil cases such as employment discrimination, property issues, housing and breach of contract cases.
- Community mediation centers may handle minor adult criminal matters, e.g., property damage, assault and theft, using restorative justice, mediation or other ADR processes.
- Many cases that can broadly be categorized as family- or child-related may be referred to community mediation. Parents who are splitting up may be referred by courts to community mediation to work out parenting issues and child support – whether or not they were married.
- Cases involving juveniles may be mediated in community centers – both the types of cases in which the young people have misbehaved (juvenile justice cases) and the cases in which they have been the victims of abuse and neglect (child protection or child dependency cases). Similarly, conflicts that arise when guardians are appointed for children or adults, may be referred to mediation.
Where Does Court-Connected Community Mediation Take Place?
Some community mediation services are provided on-site in the courthouse while others are offered off-site. There are pros and cons to each approach. For example, courts generally offer a secure setting and are usually centrally located, but they are usually only open during the day during the work week and may feel intimidating. Many community mediation programs have their own space, while many others make use of community spaces, such as libraries and houses of worship.
When Does Court-Connected Community Mediation Happen?
Sometimes community mediation services are offered on the spot by a judge when disputants are appearing before her, such as in a small claims matter. The mediator may usher them into a nearby conference room to mediate. Other times cases are scheduled for mediation for a later date. This scheduling may happen at the time of filing with someone like a court clerk, or later in the life of the case, such as at the first hearing, with mediation to be completed before the trial date.
Community mediation centers often receive funding from courts, which use a variety of formulas. Some state court systems provide financial support to community mediation centers throughout the state based on factors such as the numbers of cases handled in particular jurisdictions. Some state courts leave it to local jurisdictions to choose whether to support community mediation from their individual court budgets. Those funds might be derived from court filing fees or included as an appropriation from the court’s budget.
Many community mediation centers rely on non-court sources of funding, too. RSI has written about funding in our Guide to Program Success. See “Chapter 5: Figure out your Budget and Funding.”