Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) refers to the different ways people can resolve disputes without a trial. Common ADR processes include mediation, arbitration, and neutral evaluation. These processes are generally confidential, less formal, and less stressful than traditional court proceedings.
ADR often saves money and speeds settlement. In mediation, parties play an important role in resolving their own disputes. This often results in creative solutions, longer-lasting outcomes, greater satisfaction, and improved relationships.
The New York State Unified Court System offers parties access to free or reduced-fee mediation and other ADR services in family law, general civil and commercial law disputes. These services are available in many courthouses and in the Community Dispute Resolution Centers located in almost all of New York State’s 62 counties.
Definitions of ADR Processes
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.
Collaborative Law: a problem-solving process that gives divorcing parties and their lawyers a way to end a marriage and restructure families without the stress, delay, and expense of litigation. Collaborative law is founded on three principles:
1. A pledge not to litigate disputes in court;
2. An honest, voluntary, prompt, and good-faith exchange of relevant information without formal discovery; and
3. A commitment to strive for solutions that take into account the highest priorities of both parties and their children. Although the lawyers share a commitment to collaborative law principles, each lawyer has a professional duty to represent his or her own client diligently and is not the attorney for the other party.
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. Learn more about Mediation.
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.
Restorative Justice: a process meant to address an incident of harm, or other dispute, in which stakeholders collectively identifies and addresses impact, needs and obligations, and create an action plan to move forward.
Settlement Conferencing: in settlement 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.
Special Master: a neutral appointed by a court to carry out some sort of action on its behalf. This may include overseeing discovery issues, conferencing cases, or overseeing post-judgment activity.
Summary Jury Trials (SJT): In this adversarial dispute resolution process, each side presents its case in a shortened form to a jury. The jury then makes a decision, which is advisory only, unless parties request that it be a binding decision. A summary jury trial gives parties a preview of a potential verdict should the case go to trial. SJTs are available in limited jurisdictions.