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Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

Alternative dispute resolution is a process for resolving conflicts outside of the traditional court system. It refers to a variety of methods used to resolve legal disputes without going to court. In Canada, ADR methods are becoming increasingly popular as they provide an opportunity for parties to resolve their disputes in a cost-effective, efficient, and less stressful manner. 

This article provides an overview of the ADR process in family law in Canada, including the different types of ADR methods available, the benefits of ADR, and how to choose an ADR method that is right for your particular situation.

Family Lawyer Toronto: Types of Alternative Dispute Resolution

There are several types of ADR methods available in family law. The most common types of ADR include negotiation, mediation, and arbitration.


Negotiation is an informal process where the parties attempt to resolve their disputes without the assistance of a third party according to family law. Family lawyers setup negotiation environment as it is the most common form of ADR and can be used in many different types of legal issues. It can take place before or after a legal action has been commenced.


Mediation is a process where a neutral third party, known as a mediator, assists the parties in resolving their disputes. Mediation is a voluntary process and is most effective when both parties are willing to participate. 

Its overriding goal is to build consensus between litigious or potentially litigious spouses. It is not marriage counselling nor is it to be used as a tool to pressure a party into, or to debate the wisdom of, reconciliation. The mediator’s role is to listen to both parties and try to help them reach their own agreement. 

Open vs. closed mediation

Open mediation involves all parties being present during the mediation process, including any discussions and negotiations. The mediator will facilitate the discussion and assist the parties in reaching a resolution. Proponents of open mediation argue that this process encourages transparency, fosters communication, and helps build trust among the parties.

In contrast, closed mediation involves the parties attending separate sessions with the mediator. The mediator will facilitate discussions and negotiations separately with each party and help them reach a resolution. The content of the closed mediation session is confidential, and what is said cannot be used in court. Supporters of closed mediation argue that this process encourages parties to be more open and honest about their positions and can lead to more creative solutions.

It is essential for the parties involved to understand the advantages and disadvantages of both open and closed mediation before making a decision. For instance, open mediation provides transparency and encourages trust among the parties, while closed mediation encourages parties to be more honest about their positions.

As legal professionals, it is our duty to inform and educate our clients on their options for dispute resolution. Our firm takes pride in helping clients understand the differences between open and closed mediation, so they can make informed decisions about their case. If you are considering mediation, we encourage you to contact us for guidance and support.

Mediation and domestic violence

Domestic violence is defined as any intentional act by a spouse to intimidate or harm the other spouse through physical force or threats. If you are a victim of domestic violence and considering mediation, it is crucial to proceed with caution and ensure that your circumstances are fully understood by your lawyer.

The purpose of domestic violence is to control a person’s behavior through fear, and the impact of this violence can leave a victim in a state of fear long after the separation from the abuser. This power imbalance can prevent meaningful negotiations during mediation, potentially leading to an unfair or impractical settlement. This is especially true if both parties are still living in the same residence during the mediation process, as the abused spouse may be more susceptible to intimidation tactics.


Arbitration is a process in family law where a neutral third party, known as an arbitrator, hears evidence and makes a decision. The decision of the arbitrator is usually final and binding on the parties. Arbitration can be either voluntary or mandatory, depending on the terms of the agreement between the parties set by their family lawyers.

The Advantages of Arbitration

Arbitration offers several advantages over traditional litigation, including the ability for parties to select an experienced decision maker to hear their case. But that’s not all, there are three other key benefits to consider.

First, parties to an arbitration have the freedom to decide which steps they will take throughout the process, including examinations, affidavit of documents, conferences, documents they will exchange, and timelines. This level of flexibility is not available in a court setting, where procedures are strictly regulated.

Second, arbitration allows parties to choose their hearing date, which is typically scheduled much earlier than a trial date would be. This means that parties can resolve their dispute more quickly and efficiently, saving both time and money.

Third, like mediation, arbitration offers the benefit of private resolution. This means that the parties can keep their dispute out of the public eye, minimizing the risk of exposure of intimate and potentially embarrassing matters. This is particularly important when children are involved, as private resolution can help protect their best interests.


Mediation/arbitration is a two-step process in which the parties retain a mediator to assist them in reaching a negotiated agreement. If an agreement cannot be reached, the mediator is conferred with the power to make a binding decision. This approach is a popular variation on the strict arbitration model and offers several advantages and disadvantages to consider.

One advantage is that it is a private and confidential process that allows parties to select an experienced person to help them reach an agreement in a setting and manner that suits them. This can help to promote a more collaborative and less adversarial approach to dispute resolution.

In addition, the arbitration component is designed to provide a relatively quick and final decision if an agreement cannot be reached, potentially saving time and money. Proponents can also argue that since the parties usually know the mediator’s stance on an outstanding issue at the end of the mediation, they are more likely to settle the matter promptly and avoid the need for a hearing.

However, it is important to note that this can also has its drawbacks. For example, the parties may feel pressured to reach an agreement during the mediation stage to avoid having the mediator make a binding decision. There is also the risk that the mediator’s role in the mediation stage may influence their decision in the arbitration stage, potentially undermining the impartiality of the process.

Collaborative family law (CFL)

Collaborative family law (CFL) is a unique approach to resolving family disputes that emphasizes cooperation rather than confrontation. Instead of using traditional adversarial techniques and litigation, CFL lawyers work together with their clients to reach a negotiated outcome. This commitment to collaboration is reflected in a written agreement between both lawyers and their respective clients, which stipulates that the lawyers will withdraw from the case if a settlement cannot be reached and will not participate in litigation.

CFL is a dispute resolution process that encourages open communication and promotes the maximum exchange of information between the parties. The goal is to identify and address all concerns of the parties and generate a variety of creative ideas that will ultimately lead to a mutually acceptable settlement. CFL is not mediation, where the mediator remains neutral. In CFL, the lawyer provides advice, acts as an educator and legal resource, and serves as a watchdog for their client’s interests while ensuring the integrity of the process.

CFL offers numerous advantages over traditional litigation, including cost-effectiveness, time efficiency, confidentiality, reduced stress, and better outcomes. The key to choosing the right ADR method for your situation is to consider the complexity of the dispute, the relationship between the parties, cost, and the enforceability of the agreement. CFL is an excellent choice for resolving family disputes in a cooperative, non-confrontational manner.

Benefits of Alternative Dispute Resolution

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is becoming increasingly popular as a way to resolve disputes outside of the traditional court system. ADR methods such as mediation and arbitration offer many benefits to those seeking to resolve their disputes in a more cost-effective, time-efficient, and less stressful manner.

There are many benefits to using ADR methods to resolve disputes. Some of the most significant benefits include:

  • Cost-effective: ADR methods are usually less expensive than going to courtADR methods are usually less expensive than going to court, which can be particularly important for parties with limited resources
  • Time-efficient: ADR methods are usually quicker than going to court.
  • Confidential: ADR methods are confidential, which means that the details of the dispute are not made public. This can be particularly important in disputes that involve sensitive or confidential information
  • Less stressful: ADR methods are generally less stressful than going to court. The parties have more control over the process and are able to work together to find a mutually acceptable solution
  • Better outcomes: ADR methods can result in more creative and mutually acceptable solutions than going to family court.
 In conclusion, ADR methods offer many benefits to parties seeking to resolve their disputes in a more cost-effective, time-efficient, and less stressful manner. By carefully considering the nature of the dispute and the parties involved, parties can choose the ADR method that is best suited to their needs and achieve a mutually acceptable solution.

How to Choose an Alternative Dispute Resolution Method

Choosing the right ADR method for your particular situation can be a challenge. It is important to consider the nature of the dispute, the parties involved, and the desired outcome when selecting an ADR method. Some factors to consider when choosing an ADR method include:

Complexity of the dispute: Some disputes are more complex than others and may require a more formal ADR method such as arbitration.

Relationship between the parties: The relationship between the parties can be an important factor in choosing an ADR method. For example, mediation may be a more effective ADR method in disputes between parties who wish to preserve their ongoing relationship. 

Cost: The cost of the ADR method is an important factor to consider, particularly in situations where one party may be required to pay the costs of the ADR process.

Enforceability of the agreement: In family law, the enforceability of the agreement reached through the ADR method is an important family law matter. Arbitration awards are usually enforceable in court, while the legal advice of enforceability of agreements reached through mediation may depend on the terms of the agreement.