Commonwealth Celebrates Keeping Conflict Out of Court

Law Matters

By Brenda Waugh

March is Mediation Month in Virginia, when the Commonwealth celebrates its strides in creating options for alternative dispute resolution, including mediation. In 1993, Virginia passed the dispute resolution proceeding statutes, legislation that has continued to play an essential role in institutionalizing the use of mediation in the courts.

Then, in 2002, the Virginia Administrative Dispute Resolution Act was signed into law, creating opportunities for numerous governmental entities to adopt mediation and other creative problem-solving methods to address disputes. The Act honors strides in the higher education community, recognizing the schools and universities incorporating mediation into their curriculum and the many private practice professionals who have developed a mediation practice. The proclamation recognizes that Virginia continues to be a leader in this field.

Among the state-funded and administered mediation programs are those in the courts and within some agencies. They include:

Family Mediation. Virginia’s program for court-initiated mediation in family law matters began during Governor Doug Wilder’s tenure from 1990 to 1994 when he championed initiatives to establish these programs. Today, in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court (JDR), child custody and support cases are often referred to mediation after the parties initiate a suit to establish custody for divorce, or to establish child support. When the court refers the matter to mediation, selected from a court-approved list, mediators facilitate discussions at no additional cost to the 
parties involved.

General District Court. Mediation is also offered in the General District Court for cases involving debts, landlord/tenant disputes, and other matters. Parties attending court hearings may be invited to mediate on the same day, promoting efficient conflict resolution. The Supreme Court mediation programs pay costs. 

Appeals. Virginia extends mediation services to appellate cases. Disputants may appeal the matter when dissatisfied with a lower court decision. At that time, they have the option to participate in a state-funded mediation program with mediators who are attorneys with appellate experience.

Education. Parents dissatisfied with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) or other unique educational plans can request mediation through their school board, with the school system covering the mediator’s costs.

Employment Mediation. EDR’s Workplace Mediation Program provides a free process in which neutral, impartial mediators assist Virginia state employees in exploring potential joint resolutions to their workplace conflicts. 

Fair Housing Complaints. The Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation (DPOR) provides mediation services for fair housing cases and specific regulatory complaints 
against licensees.

Workers Compensation. Virginia’s Worker’s Compensation Commission provides mediators to injured workers, deceased worker claimants, medical provider claimants, employers, insurers, claim administrators, and legal counsel to resolve disputes. 

Utility Digging. While not free, Virginia’s 811 service offers mediation for utility digging disputes, which helps to resolve conflicts in this 
area efficiently.

Virginia maintains community mediation centers throughout the state. with programs in Warrenton, Roanoke, Amherst, Charlottesville, Harrisonburg, and Fairfax. These centers provide workplace, community, and family mediation services. Virginia also supports a healthy network of mediators through their association, The Virginia Mediation Network.

Parties often decide to hire a private mediator, such as before litigation or complaints are filed, they may choose a mediator. Virginia has no licensing requirements for mediators (beyond those required by any business). However, the Virginia Supreme Court maintains a list of mediators who are qualified by their standards to accept mediations on their website at

Brenda Waugh is a lawyer/mediator with Waugh Law & Mediation, serving clients in the Blue Ridge region of Virginia and Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia.