Minnesota Alternative Dispute Resolution Methods: Alternatives to Trial

mediation1Trial. In family court, it may be the most difficult thing a litigant can experience. The time, cost and emotion involved in litigating a case can be significant – not to mention the unpredictability of leaving your future in the hands of a stranger in a black robe.

The good news is that in Minnesota there are a number of alternatives available to those who are facing a divorce. In this post, I’ll outline the most common forms of alternative dispute resolution in a marital dissolution action.

Mediation. Bar far the most well-known ADR method involves mediation. Mediation involves a forum in which a neutral third party facilitates communication among parties, and their counsel, to promote settlement. Mediators may not impose their own judgment on the issues in dispute – unless the parties ask them to. In that situation, the process is typically referred to a “evaluative” mediation.

Arbitration. In an arbitration, the parties, and their lawyers, present their position on an issue before a neutral third party. That neutral follows with an opinion and/or order. By default, the arbitrator’s opinion is not binding upon the parties. If agreed by the parties in advance, however, the order of the arbitrator can be binding and enforceable – as though the arbitrator sits with the same power as as judge.

Mediation-Arbitration. A “Med-Arb” involves a hybrid of traditional mediation and arbitration. The parties initially mediate their disputed issues. If they reach an impasse, the arbitrator will make a decision.

Consensual Special Magistrate. The retention of a consensual special magistrate allow each party, and their lawyers, to present the matter as though the magistrate sits in the position of the judge. The matter is actually “tried” to the magistrate, and  his/her opinion is subject to appeal directly to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. You might think of a CSM as a “rental judge.”

Early Neutral Evaluation. In an early neutral evaluation, the lawyers and parties present the issues in dispute to a neutral evaluator (sometimes a team of evaluators). The process occurs rather early in the matter (before formal motions and/or discovery). Once all of the relevant facts and arguments have been made, the evaluator will offer his/her opinion about the strengths and weaknesses of each side, and the likely outcome in the event that a trial occurs. The parties, in reliance upon that opinion, begin mediating their dispute. About 80% of the time, a settlement is reached.


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Divorce Mediation And The Role Of A Mediator In Marital Dissolution Cases

When people mediate, they bring their conflict to a place where they try to settle their dispute. To assist with the process, an impartial third person, or “mediator” helps them reach an agreement. The mediator does not take sides or make decisions. Rather, he or she should be fair to all parties and help them find a solution.

More and more individuals are trying to resolve disputes through mediation. While this process can occur without the assistance of professionals, sometimes problems arise, and individuals need to seek counsel or advice. Often during divorce, individuals need to work out one or many problems with the other spouse. When they ask a mediator to help them solve a problem, they buy into a process that allows a trained third party to use facilitative skills to help them resolve their conflicts.

In certain situations, courts will require couples to mediate. This is called court ordered mediation. A judge may order couples to mediate certain issues that are difficult to resolve. For resolving parenting time conflicts, a judge has the discretion to assign an expediter to help couples set up a visitation schedule for their children.

When couples seek mediation voluntarily or by court order, they are trying to resolve some routine problems that come up in divorce. Problems that people bring to mediation may include visitation, child support, parenting responsibilities, spousal maintenance (alimony), property division, debt division, and/or division of financial assets. The opportunity to mediate allows parties to take the time to address all their concerns and, with the mediator’s help, to reach a workable compromise.

People often prefer to mediate rather than go to trial. Individuals may mediate before separation, and before, during and after the divorce process. In fact, a final divorce decree can state that for future conflicts, parties agree to first seek mediation to resolve problems that come up after their divorce is final.

Mediation may not be a good choice if:

  • A person or his/her children have been verbally, physically, emotionally or sexually abused by the other person;
  • One person fears the other person or doesn’t trust the other party to be fair or honest ;
  • One person is not ready emotionally to mediate;
  • The mediator is not treating either party fairly;
  • One person has difficulty making decisions; or
  • There is a power imbalance the mediator cannot neutralize.
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