Mediation is where a third neutral party meets with the parties (and their attorneys) and attempts to assist the parties in settling their own issues.
A mediator has no power to order the parties to do anything and merely acts as a facilitator.
Mediation is a confidential process (barring a few exceptions).
Mediation is required in family law cases with minor children, and is often ordered by the court even in cases where there are no children. The court has a low cost mediation program that offers the parties 2 hours of mediation to attempt to resolve their issues.
If the mediation is productive, but not resolved, additional 2 hours sessions can be scheduled but they are often weeks or even months apart. Private mediation is often conducted by attorneys, CPA or counselors, and while more expensive, can be scheduled for as much time as is needed to resolve the case in one sitting. Private mediation often can be from 2 hours to 10 hours (or more).