by Annette Burns on May 19, 2014

What is ODR?

ADR is “Alternative Dispute Resolution”, which includes settlement conferences, mediation, arbitration, parenting coordination, and other general means of trying to settle a family law case or family dispute without going to court and litigating.     Some would argue that attempts to settle without litigation is no longer an “alternative” meaning these mechanisms are simply “dispute resolution”.

A previous blog post, Arbitration?  Mediation?  Family Law Master? explored three of the most common ADR methods used in Arizona family court cases.

So, ODR is the acronym for the newest iteration of ADR, which is Online Dispute Resolution.

We all engage in ODR whether we know it or not.  ODR is simply the use of online means, including email, to solve a problem.   It can be as complex as a multi-party Skype session in which a skilled, paid mediator facilitates discussions about several issues, caucuses separately with the parties (sometimes in separate online conference rooms that are password protected), and possibly collaborates on an online document to document the agreements.     In its very simplest form, ODR might involve just emails between two people that state a problem or question and then discuss solutions to that problem until agreement is reached.

When a Parenting Coordinator is involved, ODR adds an additional step to the simplest process, as the Parenting Coordinator is included in the emails.  The PC can then facilitate the email discussions by ensuring that the parties stay on topic, don’t drift off to rehashing of past disputes, and keep their exchanges businesslike and cordial.  The PC is also available to offer possible solutions if the parties remain polarized or run out of ideas.  The PC can E-caucus by emailing one of the parties separately to tell someone to stay on topic or re-focus.   When an agreement is reached, the PC can properly document the agreement.   And if the parties come close to resolution but can’t quite finalize a specific solution, the PC in many jurisdictions (including Arizona) is authorized to make the final resolution.

Parenting coordination can do much more than ODR, and often should include personal meetings and telephone conferences.   But because the Parenting Coordinator’s authority is limited to mainly smaller issues, many of those issues are well-suited to ODR or E-mediation.    Joint sessions would be cost-prohibitive for simple issues like setting an exchange time, establishing a Winter Break schedule, or adding a day to a vacation.   E-mediation is also a good way to discuss issues that need further research, such as choosing a co-parenting or child’s counselor.    By using email instead of personal meetings, the parties can research potential providers, check their insurance coverage, and get input from third parties, all things which would be difficult while in a personal mediation session.


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