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Alternative Dispute Resolution in Family Law Cases

In many family law cases, the parties choose to use a dispute resolution method other than going to court.  In some family law cases, parties are actually required to participate in the alternative dispute resolution process before they will be permitted access to the courts.  No matter what the reason for participating in this process, there are many benefits to using the alternative dispute resolution process in family law cases.

By way of definition, alternative dispute resolution includes informal negotiations between the parties all the way to days of arbitrating before a professional arbitrator with both parties represented by counsel.  Court orders sometimes require some level of alternative dispute resolution as a way of minimizing costs and resolving disputes without the use of the court system. 

There are many reasons that alternative dispute resolution can be a good option for family law parties.  First of all, the cost of arbitrating or mediating a dispute, as opposed to going to trial, can be much lower.  Trial preparation can be a time and resource consuming process.  In addition, trial can last for many days.  There may also be a need to call multiple expert witnesses at an additional cost.

Second, it is often easier to get an appointment with a mediator or arbitrator than it is to get a trial date.  If time is of the essence in a family law case, arbitration or mediation may be the best bet.  In many counties in Washington, a court date in a dissolution case will not be set until many, many months have passed (or even over a year).  On the other hand, if the parties choose to use alternative dispute resolution, they may resolve their case prior to even the 90-day waiting period having elapsed (though they will not be able to file the final orders until after the waiting period has ended).

Third, and perhaps most importantly, arbitration and mediation can result in more personalized outcomes.  This is especially important in cases involving children and or unique property, or property that has special significance (beyond financial value) to the parties.  In cases involving children, a mediator or arbitrator with special experience deciding or litigating parenting plan cases can be chosen.  These professionals are often more experienced with cases involving kids, as compared to superior court judges that handle a wide variety of cases.  The mediation or arbitration process may also provide more time for the parties to demonstrate the value of an item to each party.  In addition to careful consideration of the issues, arbitrators and mediators are often less limited in the types of results they can order (or in mediation, can assist the parties in agreeing to).

Not every case is right for alternative dispute resolution.  For instance, cases involving domestic violence are infrequently good candidates for alternative dispute resolution.  In these cases, usually only court action is advisable (and/or permitted).

If you are dealing with a family law case, you may want to consider alternative dispute resolution as a potential way to resolve your case.  If you would like to speak to a Seattle area family law attorney about alternative dispute resolution, or any other family law issue, please contact us today.