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The Three Primary Dispute Resolution Channels in the U.S.

Posted by Chris C. Han | Nov 01, 2021 | 0 Comments

There are times in life when a dispute arises that cannot be settled without assistance. When this is the case, there are three primary avenues to resolve a dispute in the United States: Mediation, arbitration, and litigation are your options to resolve disputes. Which dispute resolution channel you should opt to go for depends on several factors.

This brief article will give a high-level overview of each dispute resolution channel in the United States and help explain which might be the best option for you and your specific situation.


A great first step (and the less costly) towards resolving a dispute is to attend a mediation. In fact, courts in the United States have rules that encourage settlement among the parties. For example, under Rule 16(c)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the court “may require that a party or its representative be present or reasonably available by other means to consider possible settlement.” And at any pretrial conference, the courts may consider and take appropriate action on matters “settling the case and using special procedures to assist in resolving the dispute when authorized by statute or local rule[.].”

So, what is mediation? Mediation is a less formal way to resolve disputes. The process involves working with a neutral, unbiased mediator to discuss the situation and find a satisfactory resolution between all parties.

It is not the mediator's job to judge who is right or help solve the situation. The mediator is there as a neutral third party to facilitate an open discussion to resolve the matter before going any further in the judicial process.

Often, disputes can be resolved to everyone's satisfaction during mediation. Still, suppose a settlement agreement cannot be reached, the dispute may need to be escalated and resolved via either arbitration or litigation. So, let's examine those options as well.


Assuming you have already attempted to resolve the dispute in mediation but could not agree to settle, the parties may agree to arbitrate the disputed matters instead of litigation.

Arbitration is a private alternative dispute resolution process that involves agreeing to have a third party (often time a retired judge) consider all the facts of the disputed matters and subsequently make a legal ruling on them. Arbitration is not a judicial process per se, but the arbitrator's ruling is legally binding.

In most cases, arbitration is voluntary either by contract or by consent. But there are certain instances when arbitration may be mandated. That said, if some disputes cannot be resolved in mediation or the parties do not agree to arbitrate, litigation will be the last resort.


Litigation is the formal and public judicial dispute resolution process by which the most complex disputes are resolved. During litigation, a judge, or jury will examine all the evidence in the case and reach a legally binding decision about the disputed matters.

It is important to know that the litigants must meet their burden of proof during litigation by presenting credible and admissible evidence to support their claims or defenses to prevail. Thus, before you consider litigation, you should discuss your matter with an experienced litigation attorney to assess the likelihood of success of your matter and the potential risks involved in prosecuting the case in court.

While the arbitration and litigation processes are similar in that the litigants would have to abide by specific procedural rules established by the courts or the arbitrators, these two disputes resolution proceedings are not the same. One notable difference is that with litigation, the decision of the judge or jury can be appealed. With arbitration, the arbitrator's ruling is final.


There are three primary dispute resolution channels in the U.S., mediation, arbitration, and litigation. In many instances, disputes can be resolved in mediation. Disputes that cannot be resolved with the mediation will need to be resolved either voluntarily in arbitration or legally with litigation.

About the Author

Chris C. Han

Founding & Managing Partner


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