Family law matters almost always include a set of conflicting interests and dissenting opinions. In some situations it is necessary to bring in a third party to sort through the wants and needs of the opposing parties and to help make progress with the issue. Mediation and arbitration are two possible third party arrangements that do not involve a judge, however, each approach is different.
Mediation is an increasingly popular form of family law conflict resolution because it is more flexible, and often simpler than courtroom litigation. Mediation describes the process in which divorcing spouses try to create a divorce agreement that is acceptable to both parties. The neutral third party, also known as the mediator, acts as a guide for discussions between the parties. Mediators gather information from both parties in an attempt to find common ground and options for a settlement. The ultimate goal in mediation is getting both parties to work together to find a solution that both parties can agree on. The mediator does not make any decisions or force either party to accept a settlement, but instead works with both sides to resolve the conflict.
In arbitration, the conflicting parties agree to give a neutral third party, or arbitrator, the power to make decisions for them. Both parties present evidence to the arbitrator, as they would to a judge. However, the information is usually presented less formally than in a courtroom setting. The arbitrator then determines the facts of the matter and applies the law to make a decision. Arbitrations can be binding or non-binding. In a binding arbitration, the outcome is turned into a court judgment for confirmation and requires both parties to submit to the terms of the decision. A non-binding arbitration can be disregarded by either or both parties but often brings the parties closer to a settlement.