The American judicial system is a well established way of providing a fair resolution to legal disputes. However, many people agree that going to court is an expensive and time consuming way to come to a resolution. Accordingly, alternative dispute resolution options are becoming more popular as a way to settle legal matters without incurring the expense of litigation or the frustration of waiting for a court date.
There are three main types of formal alternative dispute resolution techniques that are commonly used in the United States. They include mediation, arbitration and collaborative law each of which will be discussed below.
In mediation, an independent mediator works with the parties to come to a resolution. Mediators are trained professionals who are able to help the parties communicate and accept a fair resolution of their dispute. A mediator does not have the authority to impose a solution on the parties. If the mediation is successful then the parties will sign a legally enforceable mediation agreement to which they each agree to abide. If the mediation is ultimately unsuccessful then the parties will fail to reach an agreement and can take their dispute to court.
While arbitrations are technically voluntary, many people agree to participate in arbitrations before a dispute even arises. For example, many formal contracts require that any dispute arising out of the contract be arbitrated. In an arbitration, the parties agree to have their case heard by an impartial person, the arbitrator, who issues a final and binding decision. Typically, an arbitration case is heard much faster than a court case would be heard and is less expensive than a formal litigation.
This is typically used in the family law setting as an alternative to litigating a divorce. Instead of bringing the matter to court, the couple agrees to behave courteously and have their attorneys and outside consultants help them along the way. It is different than mediation or arbitration in that there is no one acting as a neutral third party.
This approach is relatively new in the United States and is not as widely used as other types of alternative dispute resolution practices. However, this approach does show great promise and some studies have shown that is highly effective.
How to Decide Which Method is Right for Your Dispute
There are advantages and disadvantages to different types of alternative dispute resolution methods. In order to decide which method is right for you, you should consult your attorney and think about the cost, time and amount of control that you have under each different method.
When you are looking for an attorney, a mediator or an arbitrator to assist you with your alternative dispute resolution case it is important that you seek a professional who has experience with your type of case. For example, if you are seeking to mediate an employment law issue then you want a mediator who is experienced in labor disputes.
In many situations it makes sense to consider alternative dispute resolution methods to settle your legal issues and to avoid the expense, of both money and time, which formal litigation requires.
The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.