[Ed: Originally published on Facebook.]
Mediation is the most common, but certainly not the only, form of “alternative dispute resolution”. Let’s take a brief look at a couple of others.
“Arbitration” is similar to an actual trial. The arbitrator(s) (there can be more than one) will make a decision, just like a judge will. The parties present evidence, just like in a trial, although typically the rules of evidence are far more relaxed in arbitration. There is a huge potential pitfall, however, in that there is generally no effective avenue of appeal if you don’t like the result. Usually arbitration is a bad idea in divorce cases, although a limited arbitration to divide personal property might be a good, cost-effective way of getting that issue resolved if the parties just can’t seem to agree among themselves.
“Judicially-hosted settlement conferences” are very similar to mediation. Typically the parties are not required to settle, just like in mediation. The parties also generally spend most of the time in caucus, also like in mediation. Instead of a mediator, though, the neutral is typically a senior judge or a retired judge – someone who can bring years of experience on the bench, deciding cases just like yours, to the table. This can be an invaluable experience, as you will hear, directly from someone who thinks and acts a lot like the judge in your case, what that judge would do in your case. Actual results in the case could vary, of course, but knowing what one judge would do can have a profound impact on one side’s willingness to consider alternatives that don’t cede control of the case over to another judge.