Alternative Dispute Resolution

This guide briefly discusses the use of alternative dispute resolution services to solve legal problems outside of court. Some references are to materials for Washington State and some are general. Visit either of the following web sites for definitions of the terms used here:

What is Alternative Dispute Resolution?

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) describes tools available as an alternative to suing someone in court. ADR happens outside of court and typically uses mediation or arbitration through a neutral third-party to resolve disputes. There are many advantages to ADR: it is cheaper than litigation, and in fact, some local resources offer mediation services for free; both parties have control of the situation and outcome; and if both parties reach an agreement, it can become a legally binding document.

What Laws Govern Alternative Dispute Resolution?


Two parts of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) govern arbitration in this state: RCW 7.04A and RCW 7.06. If mediation is ordered by a court, the RCW also governs through RCW 5.60.070. However, if you engage in informal mediation or another type of informal negotiation, you are free to set your own rules, so long as you can agree with the other party. Remember that one of the biggest advantages of ADR is that you are in control.


Arbitration, a piece of ADR, is generally in writing and an arbitration agreement is often included in consumer, employment, and labor law contracts. The Federal Arbitration Act may preempt, or overrule, a state law regarding arbitration, so when researching an issue dealing with arbitration, you should make sure the State law has not been preempted by the Federal law.

Getting Started

You may wish to read about your type of dispute before determining whether ADR is the right choice for you. You can find helpful materials online, at the Dispute Resolution Center of King County, or at the King County Law Library. You can try to negotiate a settlement with informal mediators (like friends) or formal mediators (like a neighborhood dispute resolution center.) Under certain business-related circumstances, you can file a complaint with the Washington State Attorney General’s Office or contact the Better Business Bureau.

Print Resources at the Law Library

Introductory books on the ADR process

Alternative Dispute Resolution in a Nutshell, shelved at KF 9084 .N65 2013.  Concise volume describing negotiation, mediation, and arbitration processes.

How ADR Works, shelved at KF 3425 .H69 2002.  A treatise on ADR by the American Bar Association Committee on ADR in Labor and Employment Law.

Selected Topics

Divorce Without Court: A Guide to Mediation and Collaborative Divorce, shelved at KF 535 .Z9 D58.  Written for the non-lawyer, this guide provides tips on the use of mediation in divorce and includes helpful worksheets.

Environmental Dispute Resolution: An Anthology of Practical Solutions, shelved at KF 3775 .E585 2002.  Collection of short chapters for the lawyer involved in environmental arbitration or mediation.

Making Money Talk: How to Mediate Insured Claims and Other Monetary Disputes, shelved at K 2390 .L58 2007.  Written for mediation practitioners dealing with monetary claims and includes helpful transcripts.

Neighbor Law: Fences, Trees, Boundaries and Noise, shelved at KF 639 .Z9 J67.  Plain-language guide to neighbor issues, including sample letters for ways to deal with problems before going to court.

Internet Resources & Forms

If You Need More Help

Guide to General Legal Clinics & Resources in King County

Links Updated: January 2022