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Instead of going to court

If you have a dispute (for example, with your ex-partner, neighbour, landlord or organisation) there may be ways to deal with your dispute without going to court.

You could ask a solicitor to give you advice on your rights and options, or to help you negotiate with the person or organisation you have a problem with.

Your solicitor might suggest other ways to sort out your problem without going to court. This is called 'alternative dispute resolution' and includes:

  • mediation and conciliation
  • arbitration
  • ombudsmen

Using alternative dispute resolution

Alternative dispute resolution is not meant to replace the courts and it is not a substitute for legal advice. But it can sometimes have advantages over going to court.

Alternative dispute resolution could:

  • solve your problem faster
  • cost less
  • avoid the stress of going to court
  • help you keep a positive relationship with the other person involved
  • help you both reach an agreement

You can use alternative dispute resolution as well as going to court. For example, mediation can help you agree on some things before you go to court, so you have fewer things to decide on at court.

Mediation and conciliation

Mediation and conciliation is when you use a mediator (an independent expert who will not take sides) to help you find a solution to your problem. It's you and the person or organisation you're having a dispute with – not the mediator – who decides what happens and the terms of any agreement you make.

Find a mediation or conciliation service using:

  • Relationships Scotland – relationship counselling, family mediation and other family support services
  • CALM Scotland – family mediation with lawyer-mediators
  • Scottish Mediation – membership body for mediators in Scotland
  • SACRO – community mediation for local disputes in neighbourhoods (available in Aberdeen, Musselburgh, Kirkcaldy, Elgin and Perth)
  • ACAS – for disputes and problems at work
  • the Law Society of Scotland – find a solicitor who specialises in family law or commercial law mediation

Sometimes there is a charge for mediation, depending on the type of mediation and service provider.

You might have to pay for mediation that involves money and property. If you cannot afford it, you might get help with some of the costs through legal aid.


Arbitration is when an independent person (the arbitrator) listens to both sides of a dispute and makes a decision to resolve it.

Sometimes you'll need to go to a hearing to present your case, but this is less formal than a court hearing. The arbitrator's decision is binding so you'll need to accept the decision they make.

Arbitration is often used for problems with goods and services. Trade associations may have arbitration schemes, or use schemes run by the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. For example, the Association of British Travel Agents can arbitrate on disagreements about holidays.

The Scottish Arbitration Centre in Edinburgh has facilities for arbitration, mediation and other dispute hearings.


Ombudsmen investigate and resolve complaints about public and private organisations. They are often a last resort when complaints cannot be sorted out though an organisation's own complaints procedure.

Ombudsmen are free to use, and their decision isn't binding. This means you can use another dispute resolution process or take your case to court if you're unhappy with the decision.

Collaborative law

Collaborative Family Law is a way to resolve family issues without going to court. This includes things like:

  • divorce
  • financial arrangements
  • child contact arrangements

Each person should have a family lawyer who is specially trained in collaborative law. You will then sign a contract called the participation agreement. This is a commitment to work together to find a solution to the issues through a series of face-to-face meetings.

Once you reach an agreement your lawyers will draw up an agreement that can be sent to court for approval and made into an Order.

To make use of the collaborative law process you should contact a family lawyer who is trained in collaborative practice.

For more information go to the Consensus Scotland website.

Family group decision making

Family Group Decision Making is where a child's wider family to come together to agree on a family plan to support that child or young person. This could include how to keep the child safe or where they should live.

The aim of the meeting is for the family to work together to make a plan to support that child or young person. The meeting will be arranged by an independent expert to make sure everyone has a say. This could include grandparents, aunts and uncles and close family friends.

You can visit Children 1st or Family Rights Group to find out how to set up a meeting or for more information.

When alternative dispute resolution might not be suitable

Although using alternative dispute resolution has some benefits, there are examples when it might not be suitable, such as:

  • cases involving domestic abuse
  • issues that need urgent court action, eg to prevent you from losing your home
  • emergency cases (such as child protection)
  • outcomes that need to be legally binding
  • when the other person doesn't want to take part

There might be other people who can help with your legal problem if alternative dispute resolution is not suitable.

Getting independent advice

You should get independent advice about whether to use alternative dispute resolution and what type would suit you best.

You might also need advice when deciding whether to accept what has been agreed.

You can get independent advice from:

At court

At some sheriff courts there are free advice services on civil law issues such as rent arrears, repossession and debt. This could help you resolve your case before any court action begins.

Contact your local court or Citizens Advice Bureau to see what court advice services are available.

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