Volunteer mediators are easing the burden on Oklahoma courts and they are enjoying doing it.
Says Judy Knapp, a mediation volunteer for the Cleveland County court system, "I have done lots of volunteering, but this is the most rewarding because we help people come together.”
There are currently about 20 county residents working as volunteer mediators. All were trained in advance and offer free mediation services for those involved in legal actions concerning civil matters, divorces, or small claims.
The program has been so successful it is set to expand in 2020 and additional mediators will be trained in January at the University of Oklahoma Law School. Anyone can apply for training.
Knapp has handled primarily family and small claims cases so far, though she believes no case is a “small claim” because people need their money. She works on about one to four family law cases per month and aims to help everyone involved reach an agreement concerning issues that are important to them, including custody and visitation schedules. Knapp has worked with families who are able to be congenial with one another during mediation, as well as those that need to meet at the police station or in public to hash out their differences.
As a mediator, Knapp is not able to levy decisions for people involved in the process. Instead, she facilitates the discussions and offers suggestions to those involved. Nothing is legally binding until both sides involved in the dispute agree and a judge signs off on that agreement.
Should an agreement not be reached in mediation, the case returns to the Cleveland County Court for a judge to make a ruling.