This particular article is an attempt to distinguish the various types of formal dispute resolution in use in Colorado. While it is often overlooked, most people resolve their disagreements by talking them through, and using a generous helping of forgiveness and understanding I suppose. You should always start there.
If you need formal help resolving a dispute there are several methods currently in use in Colorado. These include litigation, arbitration, mediation, a hybrid called “med-arb,” and settlement conferences.
Litigation means the dispute is resolved in a court room, in front of a judge who has the right and responsibility to make a decision for the parties before him or her and impose it on the parties. The goal of each party is to persuade the judge that their point of view is correct. There are trial judges available to the public in every county in Colorado. There are also many private judges one can use.
Arbitration is a different, usually somewhat more relaxed, process than litigation, but still takes place in front of a person (usually hired) who has the right and responsibility to make a decision for the parties in front of him or her.
Mediation is a much more relaxed process involving some efforts to persuade, but one which should involve more listening and reflection than efforts to persuade. A mediator typically has no right or responsibility for making a decision for the parties. Rather, his or her responsibility is to try to create a climate in which the parties can effectively communicate their positions, find common ground, and come to as complete an agreement as possible.
“Med-Arb” starts out as a mediation. If the parties are not able to reach an agreement, the mediator is then empowered to make a decision for the parties.
Colorado law also provides for settlement conferences. These can also be called “evaluative mediation” or “informed mediation.” In these cases, the parties look to the mediator to evaluate how their points of view might hold up in a courtroom. In this case, there is more sharing of factual information by the parties and much more input from the mediator.
Each of these types of dispute resolution have different benefits and costs associated with them. One thing that is critical for any one is that they understand exactly which process they want to use, and the precise role of the person they are going in front of. That way everyone has realistic expectations and can prepare appropriately for what lies before them.
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