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Alternative Dispute Resolution

Growing in popularity, alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in North Carolina family law cases is both voluntary and involuntary. As the name implies, settling disputes with ADR is an alternative to the court system. Some methods of ADR do have results that are imposed on the parties, but more frequently in family law cases, they are not. The process is usually more flexible, less expensive and quicker than court. There are four recognized types of ADR, although parties are always free to reach an agreement through negotiation without ADR or the court process.


Negotiating can happen at any point, even after a trial until the judge signs an order. When a client has all the necessary information about the assets and debts, one good strategy at the beginning of a case is to prepare a proposal, such as a separation agreement. After the other side responds, you will then see how far apart you are from reaching an agreement. There is no way to force the other side to negotiate. It is done only by mutual agreement. After a lawsuit is filed, the agreement might end up being an agreed-upon court order called a consent order, which the judge signs without a trial.

Child Custody Mediation

Child Custody Mediation: With rare exceptions, if you file a child custody case, you will be required to attend mandatory Child Custody Mediation. A neutral mediator who is trained to help parents work towards reaching a visitation schedule will try to help you and the other parent decide on a schedule. Child Custody Mediation is free, and only the parents (or guardians) are allowed to attend, not significant others. The mediator does not make any decision for the parties. The ultimate job of putting together a schedule that works for the family belongs only to the parties.

•  Child Custody Mediation in NC Courts

•  Booklet on Custody Mediation (NC Courts)

•  Differences Between Court and Mediation

Family Financial Mediation:

This type of mediation is used to attempt settlement for marital property division, child support, or alimony, but the parties are free to add child custody to the list of topics to be discussed at the mediation session. The parties share the cost of the neutral mediator they choose. He or she facilitates the negotiation by going back and forth between the separate rooms. Not being in the same room with your ex and his or her attorney makes mediation much less dramatic than court, and usually more successful. The mediator’s only job is to help the two sides find common ground. The mediator does not make any decision for the parties. If the parties are able to settle the case, they sign a handwritten agreement, which is immediately binding although it is usually typed, edited and formalized after mediation.

•  Family Financial Mediation

•  Ten Tips For Family Financial Mediation

•  Differences Between Court and Mediation


In Family Law Arbitration, the parties agree to hire a neutral party, called an arbitrator, to make a ruling in their case in the same manner as a judge. In this scenario, they are also assured the decision-maker is one both parties deem best suited for the type of case at hand. The arbitrator actually makes a ruling in the case, just as a judge would. Unless the parties agree otherwise, the ruling is finalized by court order as required by law. Settlements can also be kept private because arbitration can be done in an office of one of the attorneys.

•  Family Law Arbitration in North Carolina

•  Arbitration: Family Law’s Best Kept Secret (Part 1 of 2)

•  Arbitration: Family Law’s Best Kept Secret (Part 2 of 2)

Collaborative Family Law (CFL)

Collaborative Family Law cases are appropriate in select cases when both parties agree to participate. With this method of finalizing a case, there is a series of meetings with both attorneys and clients in one room. Instead of adversarial negotiation, the parties and their attorneys make a commitment to work together to figure out solutions for their disputes. They also sign an agreement requiring them to be honest and forthcoming about the matters they will discuss. The system of checks and balances requires the parties to hire new attorneys if one of them decides to litigate. That way, both have a financial investment in working together in good faith. The spouse with better financial resources can’t try to starve out the other spouse without his or her own significant financial consequences. Settlements can also be kept private, especially because CFL cases will not address marital fault.

•  Collaborative Family Law: Are You Both on the Same Page?

•  Fees in CFL Cases

•  The Collaborative Way to Divorce: The Revolutionary Method. . .  Book by Stuart G. Webb.

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