There are many alternatives to small claims court that provide thorough and helpful support for resolving your dispute. These programs are frequently referred to as alternative dispute resolution, or ADR. Each jurisdiction will offer a different series of ADR programs and impose different procedures that a claimant must follow in order to take advantage of these programs. Before turning to ADR, it is a good idea to attempt to resolve the case informally by discussing the issues with the opposing party. A settlement agreement can prevent the parties from spending inordinate amounts of time on preparing for the hearing and enforcing a judgment. Try to keep an open mind during the settlement discussions and be reasonable with your demands. Hear what the other party has to say and try to find a solution as opposed to arguing about the events leading up to the dispute.
Advantages of ADR Over Litigation
Alternative dispute resolution is a great way to save time, money, and stress. A hearing can be a protracted and stressful experience, and there is no guarantee that the judge will rule in your favor. A settlement agreement gives you the opportunity to ensure that you will at least walk away with some part of the ultimate recovery that you are seeking. Settlement agreements can also preserve the relationship between you and the opposing party and smooth over any hard feelings. Many people find an increased sense of satisfaction when they resolve a dispute through alternative dispute resolution.
Mediators attempt to help parties reach a mutually beneficial agreement, but a mediator’s opinion is not binding.
One of the most common forms of alternative dispute resolution is mediation. This voluntary process provides the parties with a chance to sit down and discuss the case with a neutral mediator. The mediator is an unbiased third party employed by the court or an independent mediation service. In most jurisdictions, mediation is no cost to the parties. Since courts are so backlogged with cases, mediation helps the court preserve judicial resources and effectively allocate time to cases that are capable of being resolved through ADR. If the parties choose to pursue mediation through a private service, there will almost certainly be fees assessed for the mediator’s time to prepare for and attend the mediation. If you are able to reach a settlement agreement through mediation, make sure to put the terms in writing and file a notice of dismissal with small claims court.
Some courts offer a similar service known as a neutral evaluation. During this process, a neutral third party is assigned to hear each party’s arguments and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each argument. Evaluators typically have a strong background in the subject matter of the dispute. The evaluator’s opinion is not binding on the parties, and it is typically used to help the parties prepare for further negotiations or the hearing if they are unable to reach a settlement. In some jurisdictions, the parties may be required to attend a settlement conference before the hearing. Usually, an experienced attorney serves as a mediator and encourages the parties to reach a settlement.
In contrast to mediation, an arbitrator's opinion is often binding on the parties.
Another type of alternative dispute resolution available to small court claimants is arbitration. While a mediator is simply tasked with facilitating an agreement between the parties, an arbitrator has the power to issue a final ruling on the matter. In an arbitration, there is no jury, and the arbitrator receives any evidence or witness testimony. An arbitration is more formal than a mediation and requires the same level of preparation and professionalism as a hearing. After the arbitration is over, the arbitrator will either render his or her decision at the end of the hearing, or take the matter under submission. If the arbitrator takes the matter under submission, he or she will typically notify the parties of his or her decision within one to two weeks.