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Dispute resolution is the process of resolving disputes between parties. The term dispute resolution may also be used interchangeably with conflict resolution, where conflict styles can be used for different scenarios.
Methods of dispute resolution include:
- lawsuits (litigation)
- collaborative law
- many types of negotiation
One could theoretically include violence or even war as part of this spectrum, but dispute resolution practitioners do not usually do so; violence rarely ends disputes effectively, and indeed, often only escalates them.
Dispute resolution processes fall into two major types:
- Adjudicative processes, such as litigation or arbitration, in which a judge, jury or arbitrator determines the outcome.
- Consensual processes, such as collaborative law, mediation, conciliation, or negotiation, in which the parties attempt to reach agreement.
Judicial dispute resolution
The legal system provides resolutions for many different types of disputes. Some disputants will not reach agreement through a collaborative process. Some disputes need the coercive power of the state to enforce a resolution. Perhaps more importantly, many people want a professional advocate when they become involved in a dispute, particularly if the dispute involves perceived legal rights, legal wrongdoing, or threat of legal action against them.
The most common form of judicial dispute resolution is litigation. Litigation is initiated when one party files suit against another. In the United States, litigation is facilitated by the government within federal, state, and municipal courts. The proceedings are very formal and are governed by rules, such as rules of evidence and procedure, which are established by the legislature. Outcomes are decided by an impartial judge and/or jury, based on the factual questions of the case and the application law. The verdict of the court is binding, not advisory; however, both parties have the right to appeal the judgment to a higher court. Judicial dispute resolution is typically adversarial in nature, for example, involving antagonistic parties or opposing interests seeking an outcome most favorable to their position.
Retired judges or private lawyers often become arbitrators or mediators; however, trained and qualified non-legal dispute resolution specialists form a growing body within the field of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). In the United States, many states now have mediation or other ADR programs annexed to the courts, to facilitate settlement of lawsuits.
Extrajudicial dispute resolution
Some use the term dispute resolution to refer only to alternative dispute resolution (ADR), that is, extrajudicial processes such as arbitration, collaborative law, and mediation used to resolve conflict and potential conflict between and among individuals, business entities, governmental agencies, and (in the public international law context) states. ADR generally depends on agreement by the parties to use ADR processes, either before or after a dispute has arisen. ADR has experienced steadily increasing acceptance and utilization because of a perception of greater flexibility, costs below those of traditional litigation, and speedy resolution of disputes, among other perceived advantages. However, some have criticized these methods as taking away the right to seek redress of grievances in the courts, suggesting that extrajudicial dispute resolution may not offer the fairest way for parties not in an equal bargaining relationship, for example in a dispute between a consumer and a large corporation. In addition, in some circumstances, arbitration and other ADR processes may become as expensive as litigation or more so.
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