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Staying out of Court Alternative Dispute Resolution Avoids Expensive Legal Confrontations

That very sentiment, penned by our 16th president, is just as relevant today as it was when written in the 1850s. Lincoln, like many experts in the field of law, would likely favor and encourage a different option – alternative dispute resolution (ADR) –as the means to settle differences. And with many of the more typical conflicts that plague condominium residents and board members, it’s well worth heeding Lincoln’s wise words and forgo the mad dash to the courthouse.

The two main forms of ADR most commonly used are mediation and arbitration. While both approaches keep involved parties out of the courtroom, they offer vastly different styles of resolution.

Nationally, the trend toward requiring mediation or arbitration as an alternative to litigation is growing, says Boston-based Eric Van Loon, an attorney and accomplished mediator with JAMS, a national dispute resolution company. “The practicalities and expense move more people toward mediation and arbitration. Litigation comes with very high costs and a huge time frame – oftenit takes years just to get a court date.”

And when it comes to condominium associations going to bat in the courtroom, payment for the legal fees comes from the association’s dues, leaving lessfor what that money was originally intended. “It’s in an association’s best interest to try mediation first,” says Van Loon.

A Voluntary Process

Mediation is the voluntary process in which those in disagreement come together, and with the aid of a neutral party, or mediator, work toward finding a solution that all can agree with. The hired mediator makes no judgments or decisions; the goal instead is to guide those involved toward a resolution that they have negotiated and agreed upon. Typically, once a settlement has been reached, a written agreement is drafted and signed, making it binding, though not enforceable by law. If attempts at mediation fail, or the conflict reignitesin the future, the aggrieved still have the choice to move on to arbitration or formal court proceedings.

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