Resolving Disputes

Our legal system is perceived to resolve disputes by trial, but many cases are resolved without filing suit or going to trial. Other processes are available which may meet the needs of parties. In deciding how much time, effort and expense to dedicate to resolving your dispute, it is wise to consider the costs and benefits of the process you will utilize.

Some processes are more expensive and time consuming than others. Litigation is considered one of the most expensive and time-consuming alternatives. Dispute resolution techniques that take a constructive, problem-solving approach to resolving conflict are more likely to preserve valuable relationships than a completely adversarial process. Parties committed to a mutually acceptable resolution are also more likely to comply with the terms of settlement.

Civil Disputes: A judge or judicial circuit may establish an alternative dispute resolution program for disposition before trial of certain civil cases with the goal of saving time and expenses to litigants. The right to a trial is preserved in the event a satisfactory settlement is not achieved through the alternate dispute resolution process.

Domestic Relations: Any judicial circuit can establish a mediation program to assist parents in reaching a mutually acceptable agreement concerning the parenting plan for their children.

When is the time to use dispute resolution alternatives?

All of these processes may be used before trial or even before filing suit, if the parties desire it. You and your attorney should decide what information you need to gather before engaging in a particular dispute resolution process.

How long does it take?

The length of time varies depending on the type of process chosen, but generally you have more control over the scheduling because the process is not restricted by the caseload on the courts docket.

What does it cost?

Some programs offer dispute resolution services without cost to the parties. In other cases the parties decide what portion of the fees each party will pay.

Do I need an attorney?

The neutral persons involved in dispute resolution may be attorneys themselves, but are not acting as your attorney and will not give legal advice to you during the process. You are encouraged to be informed about your legal rights by seeking independent legal counsel.

What qualifications should a dispute resolution neutral have?

The neutral person or panel selected should understand and be trained in use of the dispute resolution process chosen. The type of process being used and the subject matter involved should be considered in determining the mount of knowledge and expertise that the neutral should possess. There are organizations that verify the qualifications of neutrals practicing these dispute resolution techniques. Qualified neutrals can also be found by consulting The Missouri Bar List of Dispute Resolution Neutrals.

When does this become binding?

All of these processes are non-binding unless the parties agree that the process will have a binding result. A non-binding process becomes binding when the parties reach an agreement which is reduced to writing.

What if the dispute is not resolved?

The conduct and outcome of non-binding dispute resolution processes are inadmissible in any court and have no effect other than as a guide to the parties in resolving their dispute. The parties are only required to advise the court that the process was successful in resolving the dispute or that issues remain open and unresolved.

Alternate Dispute Resolution Processes

Arbitration ­ a procedure in which a neutral person or panel selected by the parties hears about the dispute in a less formal setting than trial and renders a decision which will not be binding on the parties unless they have an agreement requiring them to abide by it.

Early neutral evaluation ­ a process which brings parties and their attorneys together at the early stages of litigation to present case summaries and receive a non-binding assessment from an experienced neutral evaluator.

Mediation ­ a non-binding process in which a neutral person assists the parties to communicate as they explore options for resolving their dispute.

Mini-trial -- a process in which the parties and their counsel present the case before a panel composed of one representative chosen by each party and one neutral person, to help define issues and explore settlement.

Summary jury trial -­ an informal settlement process in which jurors hear shortened case presentations and deliver an advisory verdict, which serves as a starting point for settlement negotiations among the parties.

How may I find out more about dispute resolution alternatives?

Contact The Missouri Bar or your local bar association for more information.