Alternative Dispute Resolutions

If you are considering a divorce or are dealing with any other family law matter, it’s helpful to know that there are other options besides going to court. With more courts implementing so-called “Alternative Dispute Resolution” methods before a case goes to trial, it is likely that you will experience at least one of these alternate methods in the course of your family law dispute. While some cases simply cannot be resolved outside of the courtroom, those situations are more often than not the exceptions to the general rule. In fact, the likelihood is that your family law case will be resolved prior to trying the case before a judge or a jury and doing so can have great benefits, financially and emotionally, to the parties and their children. The most-utilized ADR formats are mediation, arbitration, late case evaluation, and a judicially-hosted settlement conference.

Eittreim Martin Cutler can help you resolve your family law matter through Alternate Dispute Resolutions. Call us at 770-225-7000.

Benefits of Mediation

A mediation is a non-binding way to resolve a lawsuit or other legal matter. In a family law mediation, each party sits down with their lawyers and a neutral mediator chosen by the parties or assigned by the court.  The goal of a mediation, of course, is to resolving the case before it goes to trial. Most divorces and other family law matters can be, and in fact are, resolved without going to court, and it has become common for courts to require a mediation before a case is tried.

In a mediation, the mediator serves as a neutral third party who is trained to help people resolve their issues.  Most mediators are current or former lawyers or judges and have extensive experience in practicing law or adjudicating cases from the bench, which can give a most useful perspective to the parties. The mediator’s role is to facilitate communication between each party so they can each have their perspectives heard.  It is rare in family law cases that a mediation is conducted in a “group” setting where both parties and their lawyers are in the same room putting forth their positions and opinions. Rather, each party and his or her counsel is in a separate room, called a “caucus”, and the mediator shuttles back and forth between the parties, hopefully narrowing the gap between them with each visit.  Importantly, the mediator’s role, technically, is not to give his or her feedback or opinion about how he or she would view the ultimate result if the case were tried before a judge or a jury. Instead, mediators are trained to bring the parties together bit-by-bit by exchanging offers and whittling away the differences that separate them. Overall, mediation can be very beneficial in that parties are, in effect, given the opportunity to settle their own cases and find their own unique solution with assistance from their counsel and a neutral third party, rather than having a decision imposed on them by the court after a trial.

Understanding Arbitration

In contrast to a mediation, where the parties only come to a resolution if they agree, an arbitration is binding. In essence, an arbitration is a private trial, and the parties and their lawyers prepare for an arbitration as if they were preparing for a trial in an open courtroom.  For this reason, an arbitration should be viewed as a direct alternative to trying the case in a public forum. This is an excellent option for high-profile or high-net-worth individuals who may be in the public eye. The ability to resolve a case in a legally binding way behind closed doors can be a huge benefit, especially when publicity needs to be avoided.

How a Late Case Evaluation Can Help

A late case evaluation occurs towards the end of a case, shortly before it goes to trial when each party’s positions have been fully developed through discovery. It is very similar to a mediation, except that in a “late case” the neutral gives feedback to the parties and lawyers involved. He or she will tell the lawyers and the parties what he or she “thinks” rather than just shuttling back and forth between caucus rooms as is the case is a mediation. The “evaluator” is almost always another lawyer or a judge with extensive experience in family law, and because of this, each party is given the chance to hear the strengths and weaknesses of their cases from a neutral perspective. Therefore the goal of a late case evaluation, in addition to resolving the case, is really one of giving a needed “reality check” for the parties that can bring them to a settlement before embarking on an emotionally and financially expensive final trial before a judge or jury.

What is a Judicially-Hosted Settlement Conference?

A judicially-hosted settlement conference is an option that is similar to a mediation or a late case evaluation except that the neutral is a judge, and the conference is conducted through the court. Oftentimes the neutral in a judicially-hosted settlement conference is a senior judge who has seen hundreds or even thousands of cases while on the bench, which can be very helpful because it allows the parties to hear from someone with potentially decades of experience in actually trying family law cases. For this reason, judicially-hosted settlement conferences are especially useful for cases that have reached an impasse that the parties can not seem to break through.

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