What is Alternative Dispute Resolution?

Alternate dispute resolution (ADR) can take many forms, but one widely cited definition from the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University is that an alternative dispute resolution is “any means of settling disputes outside of the courtroom.” In family law matters, pursuing an ADR can spare loved ones the time, expense, and emotional hardship of a lengthy court trial. ADRs also usually yields outcomes that all parties to a dispute find more equitable and acceptable.

As Ohio divorce lawyers and family law attorneys, our legal team often advises and represents clients who opt to use alternative dispute resolution processes in cases involving

  • Division of property following divorce, marriage dissolution, or legal separation
  • Spousal support/alimony
  • Child custody
  • Child visitation
  • Modification of court orders involving custody, visitation, and support payments

Conciliation, neutral evaluation, arbitration, and mediation are the ADR procedures used most frequently in family law cases. We briefly describe each below.


A conciliation hearing takes the form of a structured negotiation conducted directly between the parties to a dispute. As a legal term, conciliation is another word for compromise. Parties who agree to pursue conciliation as an alternate dispute resolution process agree beforehand to each give up some of what they would consider their best outcome in order to avoid a trial. Attorneys play a significant role in consulting with a client before the conciliation session by helping the person determine what they can live without in order to secure the things they cannot live without.

Neutral Evaluation

Neutral evaluations involve each side presenting their case to an experienced third party who is neither a judge nor otherwise involved with the dispute in any way. Each client’s legal team presents their evidence, testimony, and arguments to the neutral evaluator separately, and the evaluator issues an opinion on the relative strengths and weaknesses of the two cases. That opinion can be binding if the parties in dispute agree to accept it. Often, the opinion resulting from a neutral evaluation becomes advisory, providing insight that one or both parties to the dispute use to improve their chances of succeeding during a trial before an actual judge.


Parties who agree to submit to arbitration commit themselves to abiding by the decision of the arbitrator who hears each party’s case. Attorneys can trade inquiries before the start of the arbitration hearing, but the hearing itself involves only presentations to the arbitrator. The arbitrator’s decision favors one party over the other, making arbitration the ADR process most similar to a court trial in effect.


Mediation closely resembles conciliation because both involve negotiation. During a mediation hearing, however, the disputing parties receive assistance from an expert and neutral third party who listens to each person, summarizes the statements made, points out areas of agreement, and suggests ways to resolve disagreements. Divorce court judges often order spouses to try reaching mediated settlements before going to trial, especially when only a single issue stands in the way of having the couple end their marriage amicably. Attorneys are involved in each stage of mediation, helping their clients decide what their preferred outcome is, advising on offers made by the other party, and counseling on how to propose resolutions.

Alternate dispute resolution procedures play a large role in family law. To learn more about ADR, or to get assistance with a conciliation, neutral evaluation, arbitration, or mediation, call or contact us online to schedule an appointment.