Mediation and arbitration are forms of alternative dispute resolution — specifically, a legal alternative to litigation whereby the parties to a dispute agree to submit their respective positions (through agreement or hearing) to a neutral third party (the arbitrator(s) or mediator(s)) for resolution.
Mediation is an informal process where the parties confer with a neutral party, the mediator. He or she hears both sides of the case and helps negotiate a compromise agreement that is acceptable to both parties. It is a non-binding form of alternative dispute resolution; however, the agreement can be incorporated into binding court orders.
Arbitration, while similar to Mediation, is distinctly different in that the decision of an arbitration is binding. Furthermore, such a decision is often far more restrictive than a court judgment because of the fact that there are very limited appellate remedies available. Many contracts have an “arbitration clause” which requires any dispute to submit to a binding arbitration in lieu of court litigation.