Important: If you already have an agreement in your case and do not want to go to court, you can usually write up your agreement, have a judge sign it, and file it with the court. If you have an agreement in a family law case and want information to write it up, visit Agreements in Family Law Cases.
Using ADR to resolve your disputes without going to court can:
Learn a lot more about the different types of ADR below, or click for ADR Resources.
In mediation, a neutral and impartial person called a "mediator" helps both sides communicate and try to reach a solution to their dispute that is acceptable to both of them. The mediator does not make any decisions about the dispute. He or she just helps both sides talk through the issues so they can settle the dispute themselves. Mediation leaves the control of the outcome to the parties in the case.
In arbitration, a neutral person called an "arbitrator" hears each side's position and arguments, looks at the evidence from each side, and makes a decision about the dispute. This decision is called an "award." Arbitration is less formal than a trial and the rules are more relaxed. Arbitration can be "binding" or "nonbinding." Binding arbitration means that both sides agree to accept the arbitrator's decision as final, whether they like it or not. It also means they waive their right to a trial. Nonbinding arbitration means that if either side is not satisfied with the arbitrator's decision, they can request a trial.
In neutral evaluation, a neutral person called an "evaluator" listens to summaries of the evidence and arguments of each party. The evaluator then gives his or her opinion of the strengths and weaknesses of each party's case and about how the dispute could be resolved. The evaluator is often an expert in the subject matter of the dispute. The evaluator's opinion is not binding but is often a good basis for trying to work out a settlement of the dispute.
In a settlement conference, the parties and their lawyers meet with a judge or a neutral person called "settlement officer" to discuss possible settlement of the dispute. The judge or settlement officer does not make a decision, but helps the parties evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their cases and negotiate a settlement. Settlement conferences can be mandatory (the court requires the parties to do it) or voluntary (the parties choose to do it). Mandatory settlement conferences are often held close to the date a case is set for trial.
Find out which ADR options are best for your type of case and to get more detail on each option (including videos with information and resources).