A great option is mediation, where you and the other side meet with a neutral person – called a mediator – who is specially trained to help people resolve their disputes without having to go in front of a judge. In mediation, everyone works together to find a solution, instead of having the judge make a decision.
The mediator will not force you to reach an agreement. Whether you decide to resolve your dispute, and how you resolve it, is up to the 2 of you. And if you cannot settle, you can still go in front of a judge to decide. There is nothing to lose by trying mediation, and there is a lot to gain.
The AOC has produced a video series, Resolving Your Small Claims Case in the California Courts (also available in Spanish and Russian), which provides more information about why mediation makes sense in small claims cases.
There are a lot of reasons why it is a good idea to mediate your small claims dispute, whether you are the plaintiff or the defendant.
You should consider mediating your case because:
You can go to mediation before or after you start your small claims case.
You and the other person meet with a mediator. The mediator will facilitate a discussion between you and the other person in an attempt to resolve your dispute.
Usually, mediation of a small claims dispute lasts anywhere between 30 minutes and 2 hours.
Mediation may be free, or you may have to pay a small fee.
Preparing for mediation
Preparing for mediation is a lot like preparing to go to a court hearing. It is important to identify and organize the facts that are relevant to your dispute. And you should make sure you know about the facts that support the other side, not just those that support you.
It is also important to understand the law that applies to your dispute. Read the different sections in this website and talk to your small claims advisor so you can learn about the law in your case and get help with your small claims case.
If you are going to mediation before or instead of a hearing, there are some other things you should do to prepare:
How you should behave at the mediation
If your mediation is successful and you are able to reach an agreement, you will be much more satisfied with the process. You will find that you are less frustrated about what happened, and more empowered, because you were able to resolve your dispute to your satisfaction without needing to have a judge decide what is best for you.
Many counties have non-profit dispute resolution programs that provide free or low-cost mediation before or after a lawsuit is filed. To find a program near you, visit the California Coalition for Community Mediation's website. Or ask your court for a list of mediation programs in your area.
You can also contact your local bar association. To find a bar association in your area, contact the State Bar's Lawyer Referral Services program. (Type your county or region in the search box).
Every county in California has a small claims advisor that can help you with your case. The small claims advisor can help you research and understand the law in your case, fill out your forms, understand service and how to do it correctly, and prepare for your hearing. The advisor can also help you explore whether mediation may be a good option for you and help you find a mediator.
And this website gives you many links and resources to find a lot more resources for your small claims case.