Alternative Dispute Resolution
As provided verbatim by the Georgia Office of Dispute Resolution, Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) refers to any method other than litigation to resolve disputes by which a neutral is utilized to assist in the parties coming to an agreement as to some or all outstanding issues. A neutral is an impartial person who helps people resolve their disputes. Mediators, arbitrators, and case evaluators are all neutrals. The Office of Dispute Resolution further provides that the court-connected ADR system was created in 1993 jointly by the Georgia Supreme Court and the State Bar of Georgia. There were two goals for the system: 1) help the judiciary handle more cases with fewer resources; and 2) offer litigants lower-cost, faster and effective ways to resolve their differences without resorting to trials. Since 1997, 178,000 cases have been resolved through the courts’ (ADR) system. The ADR system benefits: Taxpayers – by reducing the need to pay for more judges, staff and courtrooms as Georgia’s population grows, saving millions of dollars a year; Litigants – by offering effective, empowering alternatives to litigation that save them time, money and energy; Attorneys – by giving them more tools to satisfy their clients’ needs and by reducing overcrowding in the courts; Judges and Juries – by clearing dockets so they can concentrate their efforts on cases that require their services; and Courts – by helping the judiciary use its resources more efficiently. Often times a family law issue, in part or whole, may be resolved through the ADR process. Many circuits provide mediation services through the particular circuit alternative dispute resolution center for litigants involved in family law, and, often courts will require litigants at least attempt mediation prior to a hearing or trial.
As defined by the Georgia Office of Dispute Resolution, some common types of ADR used in Georgia courts are as follows:
Mediation: A process in which a mediator helps parties negotiate their differences with an eye toward resolution and settlement. The mediator has no authority to make a decision or impose a settlement upon the parties, but instead tries to empower the parties to make the decisions themselves. The mediator does that by focusing the parties on their needs and interests rather than on their rights and positions. Although in court, the parties may be ordered to attend a mediation session, they are not required to settle their case in mediation. If the parties are unable or unwilling to settle in mediation, their case returns to the court for trial; the parties lose none of their rights to a jury trial.
Arbitration: A process in which an arbitrator or panel of arbitrators renders a decision after hearing an abbreviated version of the evidence. In Georgia courts, all arbitration is “non-binding,” which means the arbitration decision is advisory and not a final resolution of the case. In non-binding arbitration, either party may demand a trial within a specified period, otherwise the non-binding decision becomes binding. The essential difference between arbitration and mediation is that in arbitration others make decisions for the parties, while in mediation the parties are empowered to make decisions for themselves.
Case Evaluation or Early Neutral Evaluation: A process in which a lawyer with expertise in the subject matter of the litigation evaluates the case. Each side presents a summary of its legal theories and evidence. The evaluator assesses the strength and weaknesses of each side’s case and helps the parties narrow the legal and factual issues in the case. This conference is designed to streamline discovery and other pretrial aspects of the case. The early neutral evaluation of the case may also provide a basis for settlement discussions. Currently, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers Georgia Chapter provide Late Case Evaluation for most Fulton County Family Law Division cases upon request.
For more information, see the Georgia Supreme Court Alternative Dispute Resolution Rules.