Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) refers to a variety of processes that help parties resolve disputes without a trial. Typical ADR processes include mediation, arbitration, neutral evaluation, and collaborative law. These processes are generally confidential, less formal, and less stressful than traditional court proceedings. In ADR processes such as mediation, parties play an important role in resolving their own disputes.
Arbitration: a neutral person called an “arbitrator” hears arguments and evidence from each side and then decides the outcome. Arbitration is less formal than a trial and the rules of evidence are often relaxed. In binding arbitration, parties agree to accept the arbitrator’s decision as final, and there is generally no right to appeal. In nonbinding arbitration, the parties may request a trial if they do not accept the arbitrator’s decision.
Case Conferencing: in case conferencing, a judge or the judge’s representative meets with the parties and their attorneys to try to settle some or all of the issues in dispute before going to trial. Parties’ participation is limited, and the focus is on narrowing the issues in dispute.
Collaborative Family Law: Collaborative Family Law gives divorcing couples a way to end their marriage respectfully, without going to court, while offering them the support, guidance and protection of their own, specially-trained lawyers. If either spouse decides to go to court, both spouses must hire new lawyers. This motivates everyone involved to continue working toward a mutually agreeable resolution. Collaborative Family Law may also involve other professionals. Collaborative Family Law may not be appropriate for couples with a history or fear of domestic violence, or where one spouse cannot locate the other.
Mediation: a neutral person called a “mediator” helps the parties try to reach a mutually acceptable resolution of the dispute. The mediator does not decide the case, but helps the parties communicate so they can try to settle the dispute themselves. Mediation may be particularly useful when family members, neighbors, or business partners have a dispute. Mediation may be inappropriate if a party has a significant advantage in power or control over the other.
Neutral Evaluation: a neutral person with subject-matter expertise hears abbreviated arguments, reviews the strengths and weaknesses of each side’s case, and offers an evaluation of likely court outcomes in an effort to promote settlement. The neutral evaluator may also provide case planning guidance and settlement assistance with the parties’ consent.
Parenting Coordination (PC): a child-focused process in which a trained and experienced mental health or legal professional called a “parenting coordinator” assists high-conflict parents to carry out their parenting plan. With prior approval of the parties and the court, the parenting coordinator may make decisions within the scope of the court order or appointment contract. The purpose of Parent Coordination is to help parents resolve conflicts regarding their children in a timely manner and try to promote safe, healthy, and meaningful parent-child relationships.