In the middle of a consumer dispute with a business, corporation, landlord or company? Looking for a way to settle it outside the courtroom?

We asked the Federal Trade Commission to help us with alternative ways to solve disputes.

We know: All About Mediation and Arbitration

Tell me about alternative dispute resolution (ADR).

These are programs designed to help consumers resolve their complaints without going to court. There are basically two alternatives to going to court -Mediation and Arbitration.

Whatís mediation?

Mediation uses a third partyóthe mediatoróto help you and the other party resolve the problems through facilitated dialogue. Itís up to you and the other party, however, to reach an agreement.

Whatís arbitration?

This is a more formal procedure. Although itís not court, you and the other party may have to appear at hearings, present evidence and question witnesses. Here, an arbitrator or panel makes a decision regarding the case, which may be legally binding.

How do I know what kind of dispute resolution program to choose?

The best way is to call around to various programs and ask. You find both mediation and arbitration programs on line, through non profit organizations, the bar association, legal aid clinics and from government and consumer referral agencies.

What are the different questions to ask when I contact these programs?

Start by asking for a copy of the programís rules. These are the issues you may want to know about

  • Who administers the program and how neutral can the mediator or arbitrator be in your case?
  • What does the program require and how long will it take? Sometimes all of the presentation by both sides is done in writing. Ask about how the process works, what you will have to do and how things proceed.
  • Can you help select the arbitrator or mediator?
  • How confidential is the program?
  • Are you allowed to have witnesses?
  • Is the decision the end is binding or nonbinding? Mediation is nonbinding, but arbitration may or may not be. Find out when and how.
  • Ask about fees and costs. Some programs are free, some are based on your ability to pay, some have a flat rate. Who pays the fees and cost, if there are some?


If your dispute resolution does not settle your problem, you may want to sue in court. If this is important to you, donít sign away that right when you participate in a dispute resolution program. Remember, with binding arbitration, you usually give up your right to sue, even if you did not specifically sign away that right.

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