Mediation and arbitration are methods of alternative dispute resolution, or ADR. Both are designed to keep parties out of the courtroom and involve the help of a neutral third party. Instead of attending multiple hearings and preparing for and attending trial, ADR provides parties a faster and less expensive way to resolve problems.
Although mediation and arbitration are similar, they have differences that will impact which method may be better depending on the specific aspects of a case.
Mediators are trained professionals who facilitate and simplify discussions between parties. Unlike courtroom judges and juries, mediators do not make decisions for parties. Instead, they identify and define the problems, address unrealistic expectations, help parties communicate tactfully, suggest solutions, and encourage cooperation. The results of mediation are not binding, so parties may move forward with litigation if either dislikes the outcome.
Mediation is often found in divorce, child custody, housing, and small claims cases. Given the highly personal and emotionally charged nature of these proceedings, mediation can be a positive solution for parties to solve their legal disputes in a more relaxed and informal environment.
More importantly, mediation lets parties decide a case’s outcome rather than a judge or jury. Working together to decide outcomes can leave parties feeling more empowered and in control of the decisions.
Unlike mediation, arbitration is more similar to a trial. Arbitrators, like mediators, are also trained professionals. Parties make opening statements, present evidence, and arbitrators decide outcomes of cases. Depending on the situation, parties may be bound to an arbitrator’s decision.
Despite its similarities to trial, arbitration is more relaxed and usually more efficient and less costly than court. The procedures are not generally governed by the same law, such as state and federal rules of admitting evidence – the parties are able to choose what rules apply.
Each method has qualities that may be better suited for particular cases and parties. Regardless of choice, ADR may be a great solution to help avoid lengthy litigation while retaining more control over the process.