Mediation is governed by RCW 7.07 (Washington Mediation Code). You can review the code here.
Mediation is about party self-determination, which means that the parties involved make decisions about the outcome. Mediation is different from arbitration, where the arbitrator makes a final ruling and tells the parties what they will get. The PNW Mediator will never tell a party what to do or what choice to make, and following the principles of the Integrative Client-Centered Model, we take this obligation seriously. (PNW Mediation does provide arbitration and combined arb-med services. Even in these processes, party autonomy is promoted and given as much consideration as possible.)
Communications to your PNW Mediator are confidential in one setting but not another. Within the mediation session, things you say the to mediator are not confidential unless you ask they be confidential and that the mediator not disclose the information to the other party. Outside the mediation session, anything said, or materials provided, may not be disclosed. For example, you cannot file with the court the other side’s mediation statement or proposed parenting plan. There are some exceptions to these rules identified in the Mediation Code.
Mediators are prohibited by the Washington Mediation Code from making any report, assessment, evaluation, recommendation to the court.
Is your PNW Mediator neutral or unbiased? The distinction is important.
The “neutrality” school of thought holds mediators must be 100% neutral and may not directly influence the decisions of the participants in any way, even if the outcome is obviously and grossly unfair.
The “unbiased” school of thought argues 100% “neutrality” is not possible, and indeed mediators have a duty to ensure the process and outcome are at least basically fair. From this perspective, the mediator is “unbiased” instead of “neutral” but still does not provide any legal advice to either party. Parties have self-determination in the mediation process, and can choose a result that may seem unfair to someone else. While the mediator should ensure a party is aware if they are making a choice that is grossly inappropriate, and can provide legal information to parties and lawyers, the mediator has no obligation to make sure either party make the best choice possible choice. Identifying the best possible choices are the responsibility of the party’s and/or their lawyers. PNW Mediation follows the “unbiased” approach.
Here are two examples of the theory in practice.
In a long term divorce case where Spouse 1 is not offering spousal support, and Spouse 2 needs some support for some period of time, but is not aware of their need or rights, PNW mediators would inform Spouse 2 of their right to ask for support, and might ask questions about their support needs, but would not give advice about the amount or duration of support.
In a case where Spouse 1 has engaged in some form of domestic violence (power and control) behaviors, and where Spouse 2 has not yet gained awareness of their situation, PNW mediators would inform Spouse 2 about the nature of domestic violence.