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Alternative Dispute Resolution

Resolving Disputes Without Litigation

Litigation is a method for resolving disputes through the use of a court system.  Generally, in litigation, a judge or jury decides after a hearing or trial who wins or loses (or who is right or wrong).  However, there are other options or choices available for resolving disputes without litigation. 

Alternative Dispute Resolution, also known as ADR, is a term used to generally describe methods or processes that are available to resolve a dispute without litigation.  The term ADR includes a range of processes, including mediation, arbitration, and collaborative law/practice. 

ADR can be used in a variety of conflicts, including the following:

  • Disputes between family members (including property division, child custody, and child and spousal issues)
  • Disputes between landlords and tenants
  • Disputes between employers and employees
  • Eldercare and probate issues
  • Simple or complex business disputes
  • Personal injury

In most situations, the law does not require the use of ADR and parties have the right to have their dispute adjudicated by the Court.  However, the use of ADR is strongly encouraged by the court system and ADR can be used at any time, even after litigation has been initiated. 

ADR has many benefits, including the following:

  • Saves time—A dispute can be resolved quicker with ADR, in a matter of weeks or months while a trial can take much longer depending on the complexity and the court’s schedule

  • Saves money—ADR can be less expensive as the parties can avoid the significant costs of litigation, including lawyer’s fees, court costs, and expert fees.

  • Increase Control and Satisfaction—In ADR, the parties generally have more involvement in the resolution.  As such, the parties may feel more in control of the process and more satisfied with the outcome

  • Preserve Relationships—Litigation can be hostile and adversarial.  ADR can help preserve relationships between the parties and allow parties to effectively communicate and resolve their dispute in a non-adversarial manner

  • Privacy—Documents filed with a Court are public records and hearings or trials in Court are open to the public.  ADR can protect the privacy interests of the parties as the process and documents are kept private and confidential

  • Convenience—Generally in litigation, the parties are subject to the time availability of the Court.  In ADR, the scheduling of ADR proceedings can be flexible to meet the needs of the parties.  In ADR, the parties generally meet in private offices outside the courthouse

The most frequently used ADR processes are mediation, arbitration and collaborative law/practice.  Each of these processes are described in more detail below:

  • Mediation is a voluntary process in which a neutral and impartial person (the mediator) helps the parties arrive at a mutually acceptable agreement.  The mediator helps facilitate the negotiations between the parties but does not make a decision or force a decision between the parties.  In mediation, the decision making power is in the hands of the parties.  If a resolution is reached in mediation, the Mediator will prepare a Memorandum of Understanding that outlines the terms reached by the parties.  This Memorandum of Understanding may or may not be legally binding and as such, parties may need to consult with an attorney to have a contract or court order entered to reflect the agreement reached for future enforceability.
  • Arbitration is the submission of a disputed matter to an impartial person or persons (the arbitrator or arbitration panel) for a decision.  The arbitrator may conduct a hearing where the parties can present evidence and testimony.  Arbitration is like a court trial, but less formal than traditional litigation.  In Arbitration, the decision making power is in the hands of the arbitrator(s).  Arbitration can be binding or non-binding.  Binding arbitration means the parties waive their right to a trial and agree to accept the arbitrator’s decision as final.  In non-binding arbitration, the parties have the right to request a trial if they do not accept the arbitrator’s decision.

  • Collaborative Law/Practice is a process whereby the parties pledge to resolve their dispute(s) without going to court and in a respectful and transparent manner.  The parties work together as a team, usually with the assistance of other collaboratively trained professionals (lawyers, financial experts, mental health experts) to resolve a dispute.  If a dispute is resolved, then documents such as court orders and contracts can be prepared to outline the terms of the resolution and for future enforceability. 

In addition to mediation, arbitration and collaborative law/practice, there are many other ADR processes that can be used to resolve a dispute, including the following:

  • Early neutral evaluation
  • Mini-trial
  • Parent Coordination
  • Special Master
  • Court facilitated conciliation
  • Summary jury trial
  • Judicial settlement conferences
  • Private settlement conference (also known as four-way meetings)
  • Kitchen table resolution (where the parties sit down to resolve their disputes without lawyers and other professionals)
  • Single lawyer model where an attorney represents only one of the parties and the other remains unrepresented


Individuals can check with the court where their case is pending to learn about ADR processes that the court may offer.  In addition, individuals are encouraged to consult with an attorney, if they have one, to learn more about ADR and whether it is appropriate for their dispute or situation. 

If you need to consult with an attorney or would like more information on Alternative Dispute Resolution, please contact the Erie County Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service.