What is ADR?

ADR stands for Alternative Dispute Resolution, some people call it “Appropriate” Dispute Resolution. It just means finding a different way to resolve your dispute without going through the court process. There are different kinds of ADR. Our program uses mediation and arbitration.

What is mediation?

Mediation is a way of solving disputes without going to court. It is often faster, cheaper and less stressful than going to court.

How does mediation work?

A neutral person, called a “mediator” will listen to what you and the other person have to say. The mediator will help you come to an agreement that is acceptable for both of you. Unlike court, it is informal and cooperative.

Is mediation the same as “arbitration”?

No. In mediation, you and the other person decide how to settle your dispute with the help of a neutral mediator.

In arbitration, you and the other person present your case to a neutral person, called an arbitrator. The arbitrator acts as a temporary judge and makes a decision on your case and sends it to the court, you, and the other person. The decision is binding, as a court order. Binding means you must follow it. Arbitration is like a court trial, but less formal.

What issues can mediation or arbitration help me with?

Mediation can help with many kinds of issues, including:

  • Child support
  • Spousal support
  • Custody
  • Visitation
  • How to divide property, like your house, furniture, or investments
  • Who should pay the bills or money you owe

How do I ask for mediation or arbitration?

If you and the other person are willing to try mediation or arbitration, call the ADR office.

What if I have a court case already?

You can use ADR at any time – even if you already have a case filed or a court date. If you have a court date set now, tell the judge you want to try mediation or arbitration instead. You may be referred to the on-site mediation program, a free service where you meet with an attorney mediator at the courthouse.

What is Collaborative Practice?

In the collaborative process, you and the other party each have a private attorney and make a commitment to resolve your disputes without going to court. Similar to mediation, collaborative practice operates in the spirit of honesty and cooperation. In the collaborative process, both parties together with the professionals (attorneys, mental health and financial experts) work as a team to resolve disputes respectfully with an emphasis on financial responsibility and cooperative co-parenting. Collaborative Practice San Mateo County is a private organization of professionals specially trained in collaborative practice.

Do I need a lawyer?

You do not need a lawyer to go to mediation or arbitration. But, if you have a lawyer, you and your lawyer must decide if your lawyer will go with you to the session. In Collaborative Practice each party must hire their own attorney.

How much does it cost?

If you use a mediator or arbitrator from our ADR panel, it costs $100 ($50 per person). The session lasts 90 minutes. You have to pay the neutral in advance.

How long does it take?

Most mediation and arbitration sessions last about 1½ to 2 hours. Some cases may need more than one session so that you and the other side will have enough time to discuss all your issues. If you need more time, you can ask the neutral to continue. You will pay the neutral by their hourly rate for any additional time.

Where do I go for mediation (or arbitration)?

Mediation and arbitration take place at the mediator’s or arbitrator’s private office.

Who chooses the mediator (or arbitrator)?

The court will assign a lawyer with experience in family law to be your mediator or arbitrator. The attorney assigned to your case may ask questions or make suggestions. The attorney will be neutral. That means both you and the other person will get a chance to tell your side of the case. It also means the neutral cannot give you legal advice.

How do I get ready for mediation?

Unlike court, mediation is informal. You do not have to prepare formal written statements. But you should bring any documents you think will help explain your position.

Does the law require the use of ADR?

No. But both the California Rules of Court and the Family Law Act strongly encourage ADR. The Family Law Department of the San Mateo County Superior Court recognizes that formal litigation is expensive and time consuming. That is why the court supports the use of ADR at the earliest possible time. Section 5.5 of San Mateo County’s Local Rules sets forth the court’s policy on ADR. The court does require that both parties receive information about alternatives to going to court and provides a local form called “Notice of ADR”

What if I don’t feel safe meeting with the other party?

ADR is most effective when parties are able to communicate and solve problems without fear or intimidation. For this reason, when there is a history of domestic violence in a relationship, ADR may not be appropriate. Please discuss any concerns you have with your attorney and/or the ADR Coordinator.

The judge referred me and the other parent to Family Court Services for mediation. Is this the same as the Family Law ADR program?

No. Family Court Services Mediation is only for child custody and visitation matters. It is not confidential. That means that if the parents cannot agree after meeting with the Family Court Services counselor, the counselor will make a written recommendation to the court. For more information on Family Court Services Mediation.

Do I have to go to court?

That depends. If you and the other party can agree, you can tell the Judge what you both have decided. If you cannot agree, you will have to present your case in court and ask the Judge to make a decision. In either case, you must prepare a written order that is signed by the Judge and filed with the court.

Why should I try ADR?

  • We’ve already tried talking but we didn’t get anywhere – except angry and upset.
    It’s frustrating to have a conflict with someone with whom you’ve had a close relationship. Sometimes a third party can help ease the tension. Our neutrals are trained to help you communicate so you both feel heard and understood. Often, the neutral has a new way of looking at the conflict and can make suggestions that work for both sides.
  • I’m not happy with how things went in court last time; should I use ADR?
    ADR is appropriate if you and the other person can work together cooperatively to resolve disputes. If you have been to court and want to change decisions that the Judge made in the past, then you might need to get legal advice. The neutral cannot give you legal advice, so you should talk with an independent lawyer.
  • The other party has not followed court orders before, so why should I try to get a mediated agreement?
    There are no guarantees that a mediated agreement would be different. But, because both sides participate in and shape the agreement, many people think mediated agreements are more likely to be followed