Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is a legal process in which a third party is used to resolve a conflict or dispute in an informal and confidential manner, with the goal of reaching an amicable resolution. With ADR, civil disputes are typically settled without going to trial.

Some people prefer this approach to dispute resolution, since it can be less expensive, less formal, and less time-consuming than a trial. ADR provides alternatives to traditional processes, such as grievances and complaints; however, it does not displace those traditional processes.

Is ADR Mandatory?

ADR is by and large voluntary, though may be required in some cases. In Washington State, for example, the superior court may require arbitration (a form of ADR) in counties with a population of 70,000 or more, but only in cases with disputes of $35,000 or less. Parties seeking a divorce may also be required to undergo some kind of ADR.

Types of ADR

There are many types of ADR, including Mediation, Ombuds, Peer Review, Fact Finding, Early Neutral Evaluation, Settlement Conference, Facilitation, and Minitrials.


Mediation is one of the most common types of ADR, and is often used in divorce proceedings because it allows both parties to maintain a positive relationship and work together to come to a solution. Like other forms of ADR, a third party (or mediator) works to peacefully resolve a dispute between two parties. The mediator assists the opposing parties in finding out the reason for the conflict, as well as evaluating possible alternatives for effective resolution. If the parties come to an agreement, the mediator goes on to help in the preparation of a resolution agreement for all parties to sign. Mediation is a non-binding procedure, and the contract must be accepted by both parties.

Settlement Conferences

In a settlement conference, the strengths and weaknesses of a case will be discussed by a judge or attorney in order to reach a mutually acceptable statement. Settlement conferences are similar to mediation proceedings, though there is no fee for the attorney or judge, and the overseeing judge will evaluate the proposals from both parties to reach a solution— not attempt to facilitate a negotiation.

Neutral Fact-Finding

This process entails the use of an impartial third party to determine/investigate a disputed issue. This procedure is used usually for issues that are technical in nature or on occasions when important factual issues form a part of a larger conflict.


Facilitation is a goal-oriented group process. The facilitator directs interaction, obtains views, and records major data, while at the same time refraining from getting involved in substantial issues. In fact, the facilitator is often referred to as a shadow leader, and has little direct participation in the activities. The facilitator aims to keep the parties away from total disaster. In such a role, he/she can be a counselor, teacher, mediator, a resource finder, and seeker of support for the team.

Is Mediation Effective for Divorce Proceedings?

The Resolution Systems Institute and Center for Conflict Resolution examined three separate studies that recorded the experiences of parties in child custody and visitation cases. While the studies found that the majority of divorce cases go through court-mandated mediation (as opposed to voluntary mediation), “party attitudes toward mediation were largely positive.” In addition, the reports found that more parties are satisfied with divorce mediation, and “tend to be dissatisfied” with litigation. Finally, those who underwent divorce mediation found the process to be equitable, rather than adversarial.

Parties who are going through a divorce may want to consider utilizing some type of ADR, as it can be less costly and less time-consuming than traditional litigation. ADR may be an effective approach to divorce proceedings for couples who want to work together to reach an amicable solution.