What is Alternative Dispute Resolution?

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) refers to resolving disputes in ways other than going to court.

There are 3 commonly-used methods of resolving disputes without going to court:


If you have a disagreement with another person, you often get together to discuss the problem and reach a mutual agreement. This way you can work out a solution that best meets your own needs and interests.

In some cases, you may also prefer to hire a lawyer, advocate, or counsellor who has the expertise to help you to negotiate or who can negotiate on your behalf. Find out more in How do I find a lawyer?


A mediator is an unbiased and impartial person who can assist you in your negotiations.

The purpose of mediation is not to determine who is right and wrong but to find solutions that satisfy everyone. Often the solutions can be more creative than a court could provide.

Participation in mediation may or may not be voluntary. For example, in certain cases you must be referred to mediation before a trial can be scheduled. Either way, the mediator cannot force you to settle the dispute or to accept a particular solution.


If you have a dispute that you cannot resolve yourself, you can agree to refer the matter to arbitration. Arbitrators are often people who are experts in a specific area of the law or a particular industry.

At an arbitration hearing, you may have a representative speak for you or you can speak for yourself.

The arbitrator makes a decision based on the facts, any contract between the people, and the applicable laws. They will explain how the decision was reached.

If the applicable law allows, you can decide yourself in advance whether the arbitrator's decision will be final and binding or whether it should be subject to review by a court if a party disagrees with the decision.

When Should You Consider ADR?

The sooner, the better.

As time goes by, it may become harder to agree on a solution that satisfies everyone. Each side will become convinced they are "right" and the other side is "wrong."

Using ADR methods early can save you both the time and money involved in taking a dispute to court.

When Should the Courts to Decide?

There are times when ADR is not an option and the dispute should be left to the courts to decide. For example:

  • If violence or the threat of violence, of any kind, is involved.
  • If there is a great power imbalance between the parties (for example, a conflict between an employer and worker)
  • If 1 of the parties wants the issue to be known to the public (most ADR processes are confidential).
  • If the outcome of the case could affect a great number of people.
  • If a definite and broadly applicable solution is required.

For More Information

  • Resolving Disputes - Think About Your Options - This Justice Canada pamphlet describes options for solving a legal problem that do not involve going to court. It explains negotiation, mediation and arbitration.
  • Mandatory Mediation Program - This section of the Ministry of the Attorney General website describes the new Mandatory Mediation Program.
  • ADR and Family Law - Find out when ADR is and is not a good option for you.
  • ADR Institute of Ontario - This organization develops standards for mediation and arbitration. It maintains a database of ADR professionals.
  • JusticeNet - A not-for-profit service helping people in need of legal expertise, whose income is too high to access legal aid and too low to afford standard legal fees.
  • Law Society Referral Service (LSRS) - The LSRS is an online service making it possible for residents of Ontario to obtain referrals online, 24 hours a day. The online request, the referral process, and your initial consultation of up to 30 minutes are free.

This article contains information from the Department of Justice.

Last updated: June 7, 2024 4000353