In a divorce or child custody/support proceeding, there are three commonly used alternative dispute resolution methods used prior to proceeding with court: mediation, arbitration, and early neutral evaluation.

Mediation is the most common method that provides an opportunity for both parties to express their issues to a neutral third party who then works to help the parties, and their attorneys if represented, to resolve those issues. Mediation requires communication between the parties that is facilitated by the mediator who evaluates the issues and goals that each party presents. The mediator evaluates the points presented and tries to find acceptable common ground between the parties. Mediation is not binding and is only successful if each party agrees to the terms.

Arbitration is conducted by the parties meeting with a neutral third party, or parties, and presenting their positions in a court like manner that includes opening statements, evidence, etc. After the hearing, the arbitrator will issue an award. Arbitration can be binding or non-binding; if binding, the award provided by the arbitrator can be enforced by a court. Non-binding arbitration means that the arbitrator’s award is advisory and is only final if accepted by the parties.

Early neutral evaluation is done early on in the proceedings before formal motions or discovery occur. The parties will meet with their attorneys and present the issues of the case to a neutral evaluator, or a team of evaluators. The issues can be presented in written comments or a meeting in person with the evaluator. Once the parties each present their cases, the evaluator will provide his/her opinion about the strengths and weaknesses of each side, and what he/she believes the probable outcome would be at a trial.

As court is often time consuming, costly, and unpredictable, choosing an alternative dispute resolution method to help settle the disputes/issues in your divorce or child/custody support proceeding may be the better choice for you.