Valerie J. Botter

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Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

by Valerie J. Botter

In the context of divorce or separation, you might hear the phrase “ADR” and wonder what it means. ADR is an acronym for Alternative Dispute Resolution, which refers to various dispute resolution processes and techniques to resolve disputes out of court. Below are four types of ADR services used in divorce and family law matters as defined (in italics below) by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

Arbitration: A process in which a neutral renders a binding or non-binding decision after hearing arguments and reviewing evidence. Most individuals who submit a dispute to arbitration are represented by lawyers who submit the evidence to the arbitrator. Arbitration provides swift and confidential resolution of part or all of a contested matter. This can be especially useful for prominent local business people, celebrities, and public figures who do not want their private business made part of a public Court record.

Case Evaluation: A process in which the parties or their attorneys present a summary of their cases to a neutral who renders a non-binding opinion of the settlement value of the case and/or a non-binding prediction of the likely outcome if the case is adjudicated. This process is most useful after the parties with the help of their attorneys have made some progress with negotiations, but have not reached a full settlement. Case evaluation is often combined with Conciliation, below.

Conciliation: A process in which a neutral assists the parties to settle the case by clarifying the issues and assessing the strengths and weaknesses of each side of the case, and, if the case is not settled, explores the steps which remain to prepare the case for trial. Case evaluation and conciliation can spare parties the significant emotional and financial cost of trial.

Mediation: A voluntary, confidential process in which a neutral is invited or accepted by disputing parties to assist them in identifying and discussing issues of mutual concern, exploring various solutions, and developing a settlement mutually acceptable to the disputing parties. Mediation can take place with or without attorneys present. Mediators in Massachusetts do not have specific training requirements so make sure that you select an experienced, qualified mediator. An experienced mediator, especially one who is a skilled family law practitioner, can draft the final divorce agreement to submit to the Court.

NEUTRAL: An individual engaged as an impartial third party to provide dispute resolution services and includes but is not limited to a mediator, an arbitrator, a case evaluator, and a conciliator.

If you are involved in a disagreement or dispute with your spouse, former spouse, or the other parent of your child, consider ADR as an alternative to litigation in the Court, but choose your neutral carefully to make sure that he or she has the experience, integrity, and reputation to help bring the matter to resolution.

July 2010

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