What Is ADR: Process, Meaning And Examples 

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is a process for settling issues, mostly civil but occasionally criminal, outside of a traditional courtroom. ADR is a collaborative decision-making process used in all 50 states that was started 25 years ago with an act of Congress that directed federal courts to seek faster, less expensive routes to settling disputes. It was also enacted in state courts. Within ADR are several options for processes that result in an agreement.

Why is ADR Used?

Court dockets are jam-packed all around the country. Cases often take a year or more to go from filing to hearing and then to trial. If you’re involved in a civil case, you may be taken off-guard when the judge orders the parties in your case to meet in another part of the court, such as probation. Once there, a court employee explains ADR, its meaning, and how it works as an alternative to a traditional trial.

ADR is a way to reduce the caseload on courts, and it accomplishes other beneficial results, such as:

  • less expensive
  • cooperative
  • faster
  • informal
  • private

What is the ADR Process?

Court districts require ADR consideration at some point in the litigation process (civil cases). If successful, the case is referred to the court’s ADR office (such as the probation department) for initial briefing and discussion of ADR meaning and types of ADR available in relation to their case. If it appears the parties can proceed with ADR, the case can be routed outside of the regular court session and a court employee is assigned to oversee it. Accounts of the proceedings are not made public in court records.

Types of ADR

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) encompasses various methods used to resolve conflicts outside the courtroom. These methods are designed to be less formal, more cost-effective, and faster than traditional litigation. Understanding the different types of ADR is crucial for selecting the appropriate method for a particular dispute.


In arbitration, a neutral party hears arguments from both sides and makes a decision about the outcome of the case. The parties in the case have a lot of input into the way the dispute is settled.

Both parties have a say in who acts as the arbitrator. This person does not have to be a judge or attorney but can be a professional in the field of the dispute (such as an engineer in a construction dispute). The parties to the case can also opt for a panel of arbitrators rather than a single individual. Sometimes, each party will select an arbitrator, and the two arbitrators will then select the third for the panel. The decision of an arbitration proceeding is binding on the parties involved and is kept private.

Arbitration is the preferred method of deciding union contracts and disputes in specific fields such as construction and trade.


Mediation is a form of ADR that mimics a court setting. Each side presents its case to a neutral party and pledges to accept the mediator’s decision. As part of the process, the mediator seeks the most equitable path, emphasizing the ADR meaning of alternative resolutions because the solution can be outside of what a court can order. Mediation is common in family court situations like disagreements over life insurance policies, child custody, divorce, and guardianship.

Adr Meaning


A mini-trial is a nonbinding proceeding that resembles a real trial. It includes a person or panel acting as a judge and attorneys presenting both sides of the case. The mini-trial is meant to bring the parties together to air their points of view and come to a settlement. This process is used most often when complex litigation between two large companies is This is one of the types of ADR that is confidential, but the terms of a settlement may be made public at the discretion of the participants.

Collaborative Law

Collaborative law is similar to mediation and is used in family disputes like divorce and child custody. This process attempts to bring the parties to an agreement without litigation, and it has real consequences for the attorneys involved. If the attorneys for the parties fail to come to a settlement collaboratively, they are dismissed from the case and barred from representing the family members in court again.


Negotiation is more than a process; it is a skill. When there is a dispute, using negotiating tactics can reduce barriers to resolution. What is ADR negotiation? Alternative Dispute Resolution is all about negotiating, and when parties can share information and make fair compromises, they are more likely to embrace the final result.

Neutral Evaluation

Before a trial, a neutral evaluation may be performed. This is when one side takes its arguments to a neutral but qualified party. This person hears the case and makes suggestions about ways to improve. The result is a streamlined process in court.

Common Forms of ADR

The disputes that are most often referred from courts to ADR are those in which the parties will continue to live or work together to some degree. These cases are emblematic of what is ADR’s superpower: creating binding resolutions that don’t perpetuate acrimony. This is particularly true when the parties will live or work together (or near) one another, in which a compromise is necessary for their future relationship, including the following examples of ADR:

  • landlord/tenant issues
  • divorce and family matters
  • land court
  • juvenile delinquency
  • small claims

Examples of ADR

Union contracts are frequently settled through arbitration. This process is not public, but the result can be made public, particularly if the union involves public employees like police or fire departments. When someone asks what ADR is, these are the examples that people are most familiar with.

Adr Meaning

Conflict at Work

A work conflict like unfair termination or harassment is perfect for ADR mediation. In these situations, a disgruntled employee can seek a fair hearing with a mediator. The boss can abide by the mediator’s decision in order to save time and money that would otherwise be spent on court appearances and attorneys. Away from the office, the quasi-court setting is neutral and less formal to speak their minds and try to come to an agreement. The result can be beneficial to both sides, with the litigant keeping their job and the management keeping the employee – or dismissing the employee confidentially and avoiding a civil lawsuit as well.

Family Law Issues

Family members often disagree during divorce, child custody cases, inheritance, and guardianship issues. By sending them to ADR to resolve their issues, the people involved can keep the matter private, air their grievances, and find compromise. Using one of the types of ADR, usually mediation, the parties can reach an agreement that is tailored to their situation.

Commercial Disputes

Businesspeople avoid litigation whenever possible. It’s expensive and time-consuming, which takes away from the time they can be building their clientele. Commercial disputes may involve shoddy work, unpaid invoices, or contract issues. By using ADR, the parties don’t have to wait a year or more to resolve an issue, saving time and money.All 50 states use ADR to some extent, whether it’s before a trial to see if a compromise can be reached, or instead of a trial altogether. People may not be familiar with the processes but when given examples of ADR, realize it’s common.

Using ADR requires a willingness to collaborate and seek a negotiated solution rather than going to court to complain about the opposing party. Given the variety of processes available through ADR, it’s likely a disagreement can be settled to the satisfaction of both parties. ADR meaning also offers unique solutions tailored to the situation that are outside of a court’s purview. The speed of these proceedings and the privacy of an ADR agreement may be enough to entice people to use this process.


Are There Any Disadvantages to Using Adr?

ADR works best when the parties involved agree to find a compromise and pledge to abide by it. However, the only legally binding ADR process is arbitration; in others, the parties have to stick with their pledges to abide by the results. Ineffective mediators can scuttle an ADR process – but a productive session can be revisited with a new mediator. Why is ADR used? Because it has proven to be a way for people to participate in the decisions that most affect them, causing them to adhere to the agreement reached.

How Confidential is The ADR Process?

The proceedings of ADR may be monitored by court employees if one is directed to participate but meetings take place off a court’s docket, and the decision is not memorialized in court documents, so ADR agreements are not public record. Other court documents may refer to ADR agreements reported to the judge in open court or as part of discovery. Some ADR cases may result in a public announcement, such as arbitration with a union for a contract.

How Does The Cost of ADR Compare to Traditional Litigation?

Attorneys can command $300 per hour or more to represent a client. In many states, including California, Massachusetts, and New York, courts offer free or low-cost mediation services through a trained specialist. In addition, mediation is faster than waiting a year for a case to come to a hearing before a judge. Small businesses that seek to settle payment disputes with suppliers or clients may use mediation to resolve the issue and receive the payment in less than a year.

What Role Do ADR Professionals Play in the Process?

Trained mediators and arbitrators are available through courts to settle disputes. These people can explain the meaning of ADR and the processes available and, with the agreement of both sides, get things started quickly. ADR was put in place to streamline the court process.