Minnesota's Family Law Blog

What Is ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) in Divorce Cases?

image of couple going through divorce mediation

What is ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) really?

ADR, or Alternative Dispute Resolution, represents a different approach to resolving legal disputes outside the traditional courtroom setting. It’s not just a way to settle disagreements; it’s a way that you can save time, money & stress, often a more appealing option than the lengthy and costly process of litigation. The essence of ADR lies in its flexibility and adaptability to various situations.  There are rules, of course, but they are very “loose,” and they offer parties a chance to find common ground in a less adversarial environment. However, the question of whether ADR is the right choice for your case is a nuanced one, requiring a careful assessment of your unique circumstances.

Mediation is (usually) required in Minnesota Family Law Cases

When you’re getting into the world of family law in Minnesota, there’s a key piece of the puzzle you should know about: Rule 310 from the Minnesota Rules for Family Court Proceedings. This rule says yes, you need to consider Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) in nearly all MN family law cases.  There are a few exceptions that involve cases involving domestic abuse, but generally, you will need to consider and try some form of ADR.

It’s important to also note that it’s not either or, it’s not Mediation OR court; they are used for different reasons, and it’s really like mediation is the first step before you might have to go to court for a trial.

Which form of ADR is best?

So, we have an idea what ADR is and we learned it’s required, so which one to use?  Mediation, Arbitration, ENE?  Well, the truth is that none of the types of ADR are the best, as each type is uniquely fitted for different situations.

In Minnesota we typically have main forms of ADR with a one last outlier, they are Mediation, Social (and/or) Financial Early Evaluation, and then Arbitration.


in mediation, an unbiased person who is licensed under MN Rule 114 is hired as a “mediator”, someone who can act as a neutral and help both parties move to the center and hopefully come to a resolution.  This can be extremely useful in cases where emotions make direct communication unproductive.

Mediation is sometimes done in one room (or a Zoom room), but more often than not, the mediation is held in separate rooms, where the party and the lawyer are in one room, and the other party and lawyer are in a different room with the mediator going back and forth.

The cost is usually split equally and the mediator must be agreed upon by both parties.  it usually takes between 4-8 hours, and I will say that personally, I’ve seen about a 40% success rate for mediation!   After the mediation, if you come to an agreement, then the lawyers write up the 12+ page legal document and the case is over!

When to not use mediation

However, mediation can also be highly ineffective, such as when one party doesn’t want to cooperate.  If the goal of the other side is to not be reasonable and they have no intention of moving from their position, then oftentimes it’s a waste of time and money, but a good mediator has tools to try and change that, or if they can’t, they will often call the mediation early.

Social/Financial Neutral Evaluation

SENE/FENE is different than mediation and involves (usually) a 2 person team that has a man and a woman involved.  SENE only involves the children while FENE only involves the property and financial side of a divorce case.  It’s fast, cheap and can be helpful, but keep in mind ENE is always done in one room, so if you can’t even be in the same room as your ex, this might be an issue.

SENE (and FENE) has a whole post dedicated to it on this site if you want to read more about it.


Civil Arbitration is a way that the parties agree to move the case from the court and a MN district court judge to a lawyer who will as as the judge (called an arbitrator).  It’s more popular in the civil and employment law arena than in Family Court, but I have noticed in the past few years it is getting more popular.

The reason is that it’s fast.  The rules of evidence are really relaxed and the formality of court is much less when you have the arbitration in a lawyers office.


You can see that you need to at least discuss ADR with your lawyer, the Judge is going to ask about it and if your case is the right one for Mediation, SENE or FENE it could save you literally thousands of dollars in legal fees, speed the process up as well as lower the stress and pain of the divorce.  It’s worth considering.

Information obtained in mankatofamilylaw.com may contain knowledgable content about Minnesota Family Law that may be considered beneficial to some; however, in no way should this website or its contents be considered legal advice. Mr. Kohlmeyer is a Minnesota licensed Attorney and cannot provide legal services or guidance to those outside of Minnesota. 

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