Increasing Access to Justice Through Mediation

Organization Information:

Organization Name:
Community Mediation Center
City & State:
Organization Website:
Organization's Mission Statement

The mission of CMC is to provide excellent mediation services to courts, schools, businesses, community groups, and individuals using volunteers who have been specially selected and trained as mediators. We also offer facilitation services, conflict management training, and educational presentations provided by a trained professional staff.

Submission Information

Impact Essay

Anna and Jim (real names changed to protect confidentiality) dated for several years, but their relationship was often punctuated by conflict and dysfunction. Anna became pregnant about 3 years ago; by the time that the baby was born, the parents were no longer a couple and they have constantly bickered over visitation with their son ever since then. Wanting to establish a stable visitation schedule, Jim filed a petition with the Knox County Juvenile Court. When they first came to the Community Mediation Center, they were overwhelmed with animosity and were confused about how they fit into an unfamiliar bureaucratic network courts and agencies. They lacked the necessary resources to hire an attorney, and were both intimidated by the prospect of an expensive, drawn-out courtroom battle. They felt helplessly trapped within their cycles of conflict and could not see a way out.


Trained CMC staff provided each of them with an in-depth intake and domestic violence screening. We explained to each person how their case fit into the larger structure of Knox County courts and agencies, and described the process of mediation so that they could make an informed, voluntary decision to participate. We helped them focus on constructive options for their future, so they would be prepared to discuss those options in mediation. CMC then matched their case with a team of trained volunteer mediators and scheduled the first mediation session.


The parties arrived at our mediation annex and, after initial separate orientations, they were brought together to brainstorm and evaluate options for a parenting plan. Their initial discussion revealed that Anna feared that Jim only wanted more visitation time in order to reduce his child support obligation, and was afraid that their son would wind up being hurt by a father who wasn’t really committed to a long-term relationship. Through mediation, Jim was able to communicate about his experiences growing up without a father, and how he never wanted his son to grow up feeling abandoned and unloved, which was a turning point in their discussion. Once honest, open communication was established, both parents recognized that that they shared a common goal of providing their son with a loving, stable family. This breakthrough allowed the parents to cooperatively create a plan to ensure that their son could have adequate quality time with each of them. They created a holiday schedule that took into account the schedules and traditions of each parent, and worked out a set of communication guidelines to help them be effective co-parents even though they were living separate lives. CMC interfaced with the court on their behalf to turn in the agreements to the judge, and Jim and Anna were able to successfully stick to their mediated agreement, so they never had to return to court.


The benefits that Jim and Anna experienced in mediation are common. Mediation is a way of resolving conflict by empowering the disputants to communicate openly and honestly about their needs and goals. Not only was their relationship strengthened through the mediation process, they were each able to avoid the hassle and expense of a drawn-out courtroom battle. If they had proceeded through court, both parents would have lacked access to the legal resources they needed to build a successful case, and the adversarial tone of the court proceedings would have blocked the open-hearted conversations necessary to resolve the roots of their conflict. They were able to proceed without attorneys, and were able to make decisions for themselves about the issues that affect their lives (rather than have a third party, like a judge, decide those issues). Additionally, now that Jim and Anna have experienced mediation, they have learned a new model for addressing conflict, which will increase the likelihood that they can cooperatively solve problems in the future.


Over the past four years, CMC has worked to upgrade the technologies that we use to serve our mediation community; these upgrades have enhanced the scope and reach of our services in fundamental ways, with families like Jim and Anna reaping the benefits. We have significantly enhanced the way that we train our community of peacemakers. We now recruit mediators through our interactive website, designed through Microsoft FrontPage. We communicate and coordinate all our trainers and trainees with Microsoft Outlook email. Using Microsoft Word, we rewrote our mediation manual and created digital versions of our forms; now, rather than spend a massive amount of time and energy sorting and organizing paper to be copied, we are able to turn in a disk with all the files to be printed for us. We used technology to enhance our training by creating slideshow presentations on Breaking Impasse, Brainstorming, Domestic Violence, and community mediation, using the multimedia capabilities of Microsoft PowerPoint. We upgraded our scheduling procedures as well, communicating with our mediation community with mass emails through the Microsoft Outlook email program, rather than making dozens of individual scheduling phone calls each month. We use Microsoft Publisher to design monthly calendars so that both of our offices can effectively coordinate all the mediation dates/times. We are installing Microsoft Word in computers in all the mediation rooms, so that all our clients can leave mediation with a neat, typed agreement. If Anna and Jim, or any other family, needs to return to mediation to tweak any part of their agreement, the mediators can access the digital version so that the entire document does not have to be re-written by hand, saving everyone time and energy.


Technology has helped us reach the point that we can effectively coordinate a large number of clients and volunteers, and provide efficient services to both groups. We also use Microsoft tools and technology to spread our mediation model around the state. As courts and individuals in other counties attempt to start up community mediation programs of their own, they often look to CMC’s well-respected program for assistance; our most recent volunteer training included the staff of a start-up community mediation center in Campbell County, who contacted us through our interactive website and negotiated with us for start-up assistance and training. We are fine-tuning a PowerPoint presentation that encompasses our entire training, so it can be easily shared with other mediation centers around the state. As we use Microsoft technology to enhance and expand our services, as well as our outreach efforts, we make important progress toward our broader goal: building a state-wide mediation coalition that can effect legislative reforms and increase the ability of mediation centers everywhere to empower families like Anna and Jim take control of their own lives and achieve access to the legal system.


Submission Category
Stable and Secure Technology