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WHEN COURT IS NOT THE ANSWER: ALTERNATIVES TO FILING A LAWSUIT

By: Veronica Henderson, Attorney at Law

Courthouses in Imperial County as well as in Baja California are busy places, full of people who have filed lawsuits or who must answer to lawsuits filed by others. There are many occasions, however, when filing a lawsuit may not be the best solution to address a problem between two or more people.

There are alternatives to resolving a dispute that may better serve the interests of all individuals involved. Mediation, arbitration, and “binding arbitration” are alternative forms of dispute resolution. All of these involve trained professionals who serve as “neutrals” who will guide parties toward resolving their problems, so as to avoid the need to go to court.

Even when a lawsuit is filed, there are laws that require the litigants to attend a mandatory session with a mediator. For example, in family law cases, whenever custody or visitation of children is at issue, the parents are required to attend mediation. There is no cost to the parents, as most counties, including Imperial County, have a court-employed mediator to serve this function. There are private mediation services available for those who can afford it.

Why are people required to go to mediation? The courts and the legislatures have long realized that the interests of families are best served when parents can make their own arrangements, such as for shared custody or visitation schedules. Although well-intentioned and wise, judges are strangers to the family who cannot know all that the parents know about their family situation.

In civil cases, such as lawsuits for property damage or landlord-tenant disputes, alternative dispute resolution is also encouraged. The benefits to the parties are numerous, such as saving on attorney fees and other costs associated with going to trial, as well as getting a quick and definite resolution to a problem, rather than having to wait possibly for months to get a date for a trial in front of a judge or jury.

In many situations, such as employment related disputes, the parties agree to “binding arbitration” which means that an arbitrator will definitively decide the outcome of a case. In Imperial County courts, arbitrators are often appointed to attempt to resolve cases set in the civil courts. These arbitrators are licensed attorneys who practice in the area. They are paid a small fee by the court to perform this function. Although the arbitrator’s decision may not be binding on the court, it may help the parties to identify the strengths and weaknesses in their cases, which may in turn influence the parties to seek a resolution without having to go to trial.

Before a person files a lawsuit, he or she should consider using an alternatives means to resolve the dispute. It may save time, money, and emotional energy.

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