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Mediation is a confidential process in which two parties meet with a neutral mediator in an effort to resolve their differences. It is an ideal way to settle a dispute for those who don’t want to go to court or have their personal information made public. If an agreement is reached, it is generally binding and entered into the public record. However, what happens if you felt like you were forced to sign an agreement?
You Aren’t Obligated to Agree to Anything
It is critical to know that you are under no obligation to agree to anything during a mediation session. If you feel like you are being harassed or otherwise unduly pressured to agree to something, you may leave without penalty. While the mediator may press you at times for the sake of advancing the conversation, this is by no means an effort to get you to admit to or agree to anything that isn’t true.
Establishing Undue Pressure to Sign an Agreement
Typically, a judge won’t take your contention that you were forced to sign an agreement at face value. This means that you will need to prove that you were coerced to do or say anything against your will. First, you may be able to prove that the mediator was not a neutral party.
For instance, if you find out that the mediator does business with the same company the other party to mediation owns or works for, that could be seen as a conflict of interest. It may also be possible to establish that the mediator was a close friend or family member of the person you are in mediation with.
You may also be able to claim that you were misled either intentionally or unintentionally by the mediator. For instance, the mediator may have said that a document that you were signing was merely a summary statement as opposed to the final document that would be submitted to the court. If successful, it may be possible to renegotiate any agreement entered into the public record.
Don’t Agree to Anything Without a Lawyer
Ideally, you will go to mediation with an attorney present. An attorney may be able to tell you ahead of time what you are signing and what the implications of doing so may be. It may also be possible for legal counsel to advise an individual as to his or her rights during the process. If an individual knows that he or she can leave or continue the process at a later date, he or she may have more confidence in asserting that right. This may make it less likely that anything is signed under duress or any undue pressure. However, if you have already signed an agreement, an attorney can certainly appeal to a judge to invalidate or modify it.
If you are in a dispute with another person, it is important that you are aware of how the mediation process will pay out. Talking to a New York divorce lawyer ahead of time or bringing one to a mediation session may make it easier to avoid feeling pressured or signing an agreement in an effort to end the dispute and move on with your life.