SD Alternatives to Small Claims Court

Mediation is an alternative to small claims court. Mediation is a process in which two or more people involved in a dispute meet in a private setting and, with the help of a neutral person called the mediator, work out a solution to their problem. It's an informal and non-adversarial process designed to assist the parties in reaching a mutually acceptable and voluntary agreement.


A mediator helps the parties identify issues, promote joint problem solving and explore settlement options. However, the mediator won't make any decisions for the parties. The mediator may meet separately or together with both parties to attempt to reach an agreement. The mediator is trained to help the parties reach an acceptable solution.

Small Claims Mediation Procedure

At a small claims pretrial conference, the judge may require the parties to mediate if the parties in the case are present and if any defendant doesn't agree to the claim filed. Mediation usually takes from one to two hours.

Mediation Process

First, the mediator explains the mediation process to the parties. Then each party has the opportunity to tell the other side their views of the issues in dispute. After this, the mediator helps the parties discuss the issues in an effort to reach an agreement acceptable to both sides. If a total or partial agreement is reached, the parties sign a written agreement. If an agreement can't be reached, the clerk assists the parties with scheduling a trial date.

Mediation Rules

Each mediation session is governed by a set of rules:

  • The mediator is neutral, with no personal or financial interest in the case
  • Mediators don't provide legal or personal advice
  • Each party attending the mediation should have authority and complete discretion to negotiate a settlement of the case without asking any other person
  • The mediator will explain the procedures and rules of conduct during the mediation conference
  • The mediator may meet privately with each party and upon a party's request the mediator will keep information private
  • The conference is confidential and information given in mediation can't be used as evidence in a hearing or trial
  • The parties determine the terms of any agreement reached, with the mediator documenting that agreement in writing

Advantages of Mediation

There are many advantages to mediation, such as:

  • Parties can develop their own solution and avoid a stressful and potentially costly court trial
  • Parties remain in control
  • Parties take an active part in their case
  • Immediate resolution
  • No trial
  • Fewer court visits
  • No witness expense
  • Less formal than court
  • Lower costs
  • Preserve relationships
  • Protects privacy by avoiding a public trial

Additional Information

For additional information about alternatives to small claims court, contact your local court.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • How can I find out about what types of mediation programs are available to me?
  • What's the success rate of mediation?
  • Are there certain types of cases that work better using mediation?
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