What is the Difference Between Mediation and Arbitration in Family Law Cases?

Board Certified Family Law Specialist Matt Arnold answers the question: “What does a “No-Fault’ divorce mean in NC?”


Mediation and arbitration are two alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods available in some family law cases in North Carolina. These two forms of ADR allow the parties to settle a dispute without court interference.

boardroom-Charlotte-Monroe-Mooresville-Mediation-Attorney-300x225While these two forms of ADR share many similarities, there are also many differences between them. The most notable similarities between mediation and arbitration is that:

  • They are cheaper alternatives to traditional litigation; and
  • They do not require court interference, which allows the parties to resolve their disputes faster.


What is Mediation and How Does it Work?

Mediation involves the use of a neutral, third-party mediator who helps the parties facilitate negotiations between the parties to resolve a dispute. The mediator does not represent the interests of either party.

North Carolina law allows the parties to use mediation to settle most civil cases. In fact, N.C.G.S. § 50-13.1 requires parents to resolve their disputes related to child visitation and visitation issues through mediation unless the court waives the requirement.

Once the parties choose a neutral mediator, the mediator will meet with the parties and their attorneys in one room to explain the mediation process and give each party a chance to present their arguments.

Then, the parties are sent to separate rooms while the mediator has a chance to speak with each party in private. The mediator will go back and forth from one room to another to convey information and relay questions to facilitate communication and help them reach an agreement.


What is Arbitration and How Does it Work?

The arbitration process is similar to mediation. Like mediation, arbitration is an informal alternative to traditional litigation involving the use of a neutral third party.

However, unlike mediation, arbitration gives the neutral arbitrator the power to decide the outcome. In mediation, the mediator merely facilitates communication between the parties, who come to a mutually beneficial agreement and determine the outcome themselves.

When the parties agree to arbitrate their family law case, the arbitrator will meet with both parties and their attorneys to explain the process. Then, each party will have an opportunity to present their arguments, evidence, and witness testimony in front of the arbitrator.

Each party will have a chance to question the opposing side’s evidence and witnesses. The arbitrator can also ask questions to clarify the understanding of the issues at hand.

After each party presents their closing arguments, it will be up to the arbitrator to render a final decision.


Can I Arbitrate All Family Law Issues in North Carolina?

No, not all family law cases can be arbitrated in North Carolina. In fact, court-ordered arbitration is not available in every county in North Carolina. When a civil case involves a dispute about money not exceeding $25,000, it may be eligible for arbitration.

Under N.C.G.S. § 50-41, couples can agree to arbitrate all divorce-related issues during or after the marriage. In other words, the parties can include the arbitration clause in a prenuptial, postnuptial, or settlement agreement.

The parties can arbitrate any family law issue except for the divorce itself, child custody, and child support.

Talk to our Charlotte family law attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC, if you are considering mediation or arbitration to resolve your family law issues in North Carolina. Get a phone, video or in-person consultation by calling at (704) 370-2828 to speak with our detail-oriented and well-versed lawyers with offices in Charlotte, Lake Norman, and Monroe, please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today or find additional resources here.







The family law practice group at Arnold & Smith, PLLC includes two Board-Certified Family Law specialists and one Child Welfare Law specialist, as well as several attorneys with many years of family law experience that are committed to providing a powerful voice to individuals facing the often-tumultuous issues in this area of law. The range of issues our family law clients may be facing include pre- and post-nuptial agreements; separation agreements; post-separation support; child support (both temporary and permanent); absolute divorce; divorce from bed and board; military divorce; equitable distribution of assets; child custody (both temporary and permanent); retirement benefits and divorce; alimony and spousal support; adoption; and emancipation. Because this area of the law is usually emotionally charged and complicated, the family law attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC act with the utmost dedication to ensure that each client understands his or her options, and then act to achieve the best result possible for that client’s particular situation.







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