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As discussed in considerable detail in Chapter 6, free or low-cost mediation services are available in many communities. Normally the choice of whether to mediate is yours. However, the courts in some judicial districts so strongly encourage the parties to mediate, it may seem like it's required. Ask any small claims clerk for information on how to contact local mediation programs.
Mediation programs are designed to help people settle their own disputes–not to impose a decision, as is done in small claims court. Especially if you will inevitably have a continuing relationship with the person with whom you have a dispute–as is the case with a neighbor, family member, or many business relationships–trying to achieve a compromise settlement is almost always wiser than fighting it out in court.
Even if your opponent previously has been reluctant to engage in mediation, you can again raise this possibility with the judge just before your case is heard by telling the judge you are still willing to mediate. The judge, who has the power to postpone the case to allow the parties to try to settle it, may attempt to talk the other party into giving mediation a try. As part of doing so, the judge will probably point out that if the case is settled, the amount of the judgment will not appear on the loser's credit record.