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Alternative Dispute Resolution in Family Law Cases

In family law cases, people are often confused and worried about whether or not they have to have a trial.  Many are  nervous about testifying, the judge being mean, and/or having to sit across from the opposing party.  Trials can be stressful, intimidating, and not conducive to a harmonious co-parenting relationship.  Fortunately, there are other options for concluding a family law case that do not involve a trial.  Here are a few ways that family law cases can be settled without the need for a trial:

  1. Arbitration: The arbitration process is the most similar of all the alternative dispute resolution options to an actual trial.  It is usually less formal, but it still requires that both parties present their sides.  After both sides have presented their cases, the arbitrator, much like a judge, deliberates and issues a decision.  One of the big benefits of arbitration is that it is usually easier and faster to schedule than a family law trial.  Also, it has increased privacy in the proceedings as opposed to the courtroom during a trial.  One disadvantage of arbitration is that, like in a trial, a third party, who has only had limited exposure to you and your family, will be making decisions that will likely impact the rest of your lives.
  2. Mediation: Mediation is very common in family law cases of all kinds.  During most mediation sessions both parties come to one location with their attorneys (or alone if they are proceeding without an attorney).  Both parties present their case and the mediator hears both sides and then helps the parties come to a solution on the issues being mediated.  One big benefit to mediation is that parties are free to be creative with their solutions.  They can make the final order fit their families’ needs.  One disadvantage of mediation is that if no solution or settlement is reached, the parties may still end up in the courtroom.  This can mean wasted stress, emotions, time, and money for one or both parties.  A family law attorney can advise you whether or not your case is likely to be settled during mediation.
  3. Private settlement: Sometimes the parties are very good at communicating, have reached resolution on most issues, and/or do not want a mediator, arbitrator, judge, or commissioner hearing their personal information and/or making decisions that will affect the future of their families.  In these cases, parties (with the assistance of their attorneys) are sometimes able to reach settlement without a third party’s involvement.  This has the advantage of keeping a lot of information out of the public record, and allows the parties to start their lives after divorce (or other family law issue) on an amicable foot.  The disadvantage of private settlement can be that it is sometimes harder to reach an agreement.  This form of dispute resolution does not work for everyone.  Parties in contentious relationships are unlikely to be able to compromise without the use of an unbiased third party decision-maker.

Just because a trial is not required does not mean that one or both parties will not have to appear for a hearing.  Sometimes the court will require one or both parties to appear in order to enter the agreed orders (or orders drafted by the arbitrator).

If you are facing a divorce, child support issue, parenting plan issue, or any other family law matter, please contact us today.