What is Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)?
Written by AskTheLawyers.com™ on behalf of Tad Thomas with Thomas Law Offices.
Any legal situation in which the involved parties want to attempt to settle the matter without litigation is considered a form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). These methods of dispute resolution are particularly useful in situations where the parties involved have a desire to work collaboratively and look for a compromise. However, in higher tension and/or hostile disputes, ADR might not be enough on its own, at which point it’s a good idea to discuss additional options with your attorney. If you believe your dispute might benefit from ADR, talk to your attorney to begin the process.
Common methods of ADR include the following:
- Arbitration: Arbitration occurs in an informal trial setting, and generally includes the involved parties in addition to an objective third-party. In this scenario, the involved parties will be given the opportunity to discuss the situation and present their desired outcomes for the dispute, after which the third party will issue a decision on the matter. The resolution presented by the arbitrator may or may not be considered legally binding, depending on what the involved parties agreed to beforehand.
- Mediation: This method of ADR is perhaps even more relaxed than arbitration, as it often involves a collaborative conversation between the involved parties and an impartial mediator. The mediator will meet with the involved parties to discuss the situation and work to guide them to a mutually acceptable resolution to the dispute. However, it is important to note that the agreement reached in mediation is generally not legally binding.
If you have any doubts about the outcome of an ADR attempt, remember to avoid signing or agreeing to the proposed resolution without first talking to your attorney. Make sure you are aware before entering the arbitration or mediation session of whether or not the agreement reached at the end of the day will or will not be considered legally binding.
Situations in which ADR might be beneficial include:
- Family matters, such as divorce, division of property, child custody, child support, etc.
- Personal injury claims with non-hostile parties
- Work injury claims with non-hostile parties
The general rule of thumb when considering ADR is to consider how willing both parties are to listen with an open mind to the other party and look for a compromise. If one or both parties are hostile, defensive, vindictive, or dishonest, ADR is unlikely to result in a successful outcome.
ADR can be the first step, but does not have to be the only step.
It is important to remember that ADR is simply one tool in an experienced attorney’s problem-solving kit. If attempts at an ADR are unsuccessful, as long as neither party entered into a legally binding resolution agreement, the matter may still be taken to litigation. From there, the matter can proceed through the legal system as usual. In many cases, one or both parties may have an idea about how likely an ADR is to be successful, depending on how well they know the other party. However, if even one party has any doubt over the other party’s commitment to reach an acceptable compromise, it’s important to talk to an attorney.
Involving an experienced, licensed attorney from the get-go makes sure you are prepared and protected in any scenario. While some non-attorney mediators may be skilled at their profession, if the ADR process does not result in a mutually desirable outcome, it is important to be ready to take the matter to court. Allowing the mediation to be conducted or authorized by a licensed attorney ensures you have the necessary experience and readiness on your side if ADR fails. That said, ADR can be a great solution for parties dedicated to the best outcome for everyone involved. Talk to an attorney to learn whether ADR might be an option for you and your situation.