Alternative Dispute Resolution in Family Law Cases

Jan 2015 | Family Law

Alternative Dispute Resolution (“ADR”) is an umbrella term for a range of dispute resolution methods designed to help parties settle their cases without court intervention. In King County, ADR is required in all family law cases—with an exception for cases involving domestic violence and cases that involve only a modification of child support.

Dispute resolution methods include:


Mediation is the most commonly used form of ADR in family law cases. In mediation, the parties meet with a neutral third party who works with the parties with the goal of reaching an agreement. Most commonly, the process is conducted as “shuttle” mediation, with the parties in separate rooms and the mediator going back and forth between the two rooms. Prior to the mediation, each party provides documents to the mediator and another party, including proposed final orders, a financial declaration, and financial documents such as bank statements, pay stubs, and tax returns, and a list of property and debts. If the parties have minor children and the parties do not agree to a parenting plan, each party also needs to submit a proposed parenting plan.

Mediation is often a very effective way to resolve cases and gives the parties an opportunity to reach an agreement among themselves without having to go to court. With mediation, if the parties are unable to reach an agreement, the mediator does not decide any disagreed issues.


In arbitration, the parties meet with a neutral third party who hears the positions of both parties and then makes a decision as to any disagreed issues. Each party needs to provide the same documents that are required for mediation. While an arbitrator may work with the parties to determine if any agreements can be reached, if the parties are unable to reach an agreement, the arbitrator will decide any disagreed issues.

Theresa Ahern, a principal in Curran Law Firm, is available to help parties resolve their disputes. In addition to her family law practice, she has served as a mediator and arbitrator for over twenty years in South King County. She handles matters for people living in Kent, Renton, Auburn, Maple Valley, Federal Way, Burien, Normandy Park and other locations in King County. She currently charges $240 per hour to handle ADR matters and she does not impose a cancellation penalty. Contact her assistant Priscilla Knopp at to schedule a mediation or arbitration.