Complementary Dispute Resolution

Going to court can be time consuming, stressful and expensive, but not every case needs to be decided by a judge or jury. Complementary Dispute Resolution (CDR) programs help litigants resolve their disputes outside of the courtroom. CDR has proved effective in helping parties to resolve their disputes primarily in three ways: through voluntary settlement of their claims; through mediation, in which a neutral third party encourages and helps the parties to reach an agreement, and through arbitration, in which a neutral third party or panel considers evidence, decides the matter and issues an award. Depending on the circumstances, the arbitration decision and award may be binding or non-binding.

The New Jersey Judiciary's CDR programs are among the most extensive in the nation. CDR programs are available to help parties resolve disputes in a wide variety of actions, from child custody, visitation and matrimonial disputes, to claims involving personal injuries, automobile accidents, small-claims matters and landlord-tenant disagreements. CDR is also available in the municipal courts to help resolve neighborhood disputes and other matters the court deems appropriate for mediation.

Complementary Dispute Resolution - General Information

What Is CDR?

The New Jersey Judiciary uses the term "complementary" dispute resolution rather than the more widely known term "alternative" dispute resolution because it views dispute resolution processes as complements to the traditional trial processes rather than as alternatives.

A complete list of CDR programs with definitions are included in Rule 1:40-2. Some of the primary ones are:

  • settlement proceedings, in which the parties appear before a neutral third party or panel of such neutrals who assists them in attempting to resolve their dispute by their voluntary agreement, but by giving a suggested settlement;
  • mediation, in which a neutral third party, without any power makes a decision, facilitates communication between parties in an effort to promote settlement without imposition of the mediator's own judgement regarding the issues in dispute and;
  • arbitration, in which each party and/or its cousel presents its case to a neutral third party, who then renders a specific award which may be binding or non-binding, according to statute, rule, or the parties' prior agreement.
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What Are CDR Program Goals?

The Supreme Court has adopted the following goals for CDR programs:

  • be as accessible as possible to all disputants and not favor one group or segment;
  • protect the legal rights of all participating disputants;
  • provide a fair and competent mechanism for resolving disputes;
  • encourage the confidence and respect of disputants and the general public in the fairness, integrity, and justness of the methods by which disputes are resolved;
  • be an effective forum for the enforcement of law, including formulating outcomes in terms that are conducive to subsequent enforcement when necessary, and;
  • be as efficient as possible in terms of the cost and time required of both the system and the disputants.
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What CDR Programs are Available?

The Supreme Court has approved a variety of CDR programs for use in the Municipal, Family, and Civil courts, including the Special Civil part. Some programs are appropriate for use also in the General Equity Division and Probation. Some programs are mandated by statute, others are required by the Supreme Court for all vicinages, and still others are pilots in selected vicinages or are optional for vicinage implementation. Depending on the vicinage and the program, complementary dispute resolution services generally are provided by trained citizen volunteers, attorneys, judicial personnel, and community agencies.

The major CDR programs are listed below. Those with asterisks are available in every vicinage. To determine the status of a particular program in a vicinage, or to learn more about a program's operation, consult with the Vicinage CDR Coordinator listed above.

Family Division CDR Programs

  • Matrimonial Early Settlement Panels (MESPs)*
  • Economic Mediation Matters
  • Parenting Mediation*
  • Family Mediation/Referee Programs

Civil Division CDR Programs

  • Statutorily Mandated Arbitration of Automobile and Personal Injury Cases*
  • Expanded Arbitration
  • Mediation*
  • Pilot Programs for the Presumptive Early Referral of Civil Cases to Mediation
  • Bar Panelling
  • Summary Jury Trials
  • Early Neutral Evaluation
  • Settlement Weeks

Special Civil Part CDR Programs

  • Small Claims Settlement Program*
  • Landlord/Tenant Settlement Program
  • Intermediate Special Civil Part Mediation/Settlement

Municipal Court CDR Programs

  • Mediation of "minor" disputes*

Other CDR Programs

  • General Equity and Probate Mediation
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How Are CDR Programs Organized at the Vicinage (county) Level?

The Assignment Judge has overall responsibility for developing and overseeing CDR programs in the vicinage, within the framework of statewide standards. The Assignment Judge also determines an appropriate mechanism for on-going review of vicinage CDR programs and program development with members of the local bar, judges and court staff.

How Is CDR Operated at the State Level?

In August 1990, the Supreme Court appointed a Standing Committee on Complementary Dispute Resolution to assist the Court in implementing the recommendations of the Task Force on Dispute Resolution. That Committee was charged with preparing proposed rules of court to govern complementary dispute resolution practices (in conjunction with the other Supreme Court "Rules" Committees), reviewing these rules as needed, developing standards to guide selecting and training mediators and arbitrators, developing uniform data collection forms, and assessing and evaluating the complementary dispute resolution programs in operation or being planned. Rules governing CDR were established by the Court effective September 1, 1992, and subsequently amended as needed. (See Rules 1:40-1 through 1:40-12.)

Standards of Conduct for Mediators in Court-Connected Programs were promulgated February 16, 2000 and standards governing CDR were promulgated January 3, 2005.

A Manager of CDR Program Operations within the Special Programs Unit of the Programs and Procedures Division, Office of Trial Court Services at the AOC staffs the CDR Committee, provides technical assistance to the vicinages and provides training in dispute resolution techniques for court-connected programs. For further information contact:

Kathleen Gaskill, Manager, CDR Programs
Programs and Procedures Unit
Administrative Office of the Courts
P.O. Box 988
Trenton, New Jersey 08625
Telephone: 609-984-2337

What do I need to do in order to participate in a CDR Program?

In order to participate in a court-annexed CDR program a law suit must be filed in the Superior Court. However, if you would like to participate in mediation at the Municipal Court level, please contact the Municipal Court Administrator in the municipality where the matter will be handled.

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Contact Information for Civil and Family CDR Programs

For further information or any questions regarding Civil CDR Programs, such as Civil mediation and arbitration (e.g., requirements to become an arbitrator or a mediator on the Civil, General Equity and Probate rosters, to update a roster or to obtain forms, program manuals, guidelines and procedures), contact Taironda Phoenix, Chief, Civil Court Programs at 609-292-8471. For information or questions regarding Civil Mediation only, contact Nanette Lind at 609-292-8470.

For information and requests to update the Family Roster, contact Kimberly Ward at 609-984-4228. For all other Family inquiries, contact Gina Bellucci at 609-984-4228.

Please Note: If your name appears on both the Civil and Family Roster of Mediators, you must contact both the Civil and Family Divisions individually to update any of your information. For example - reporting a change in status, or reporting a completion of annual continuing training requirements, etc. If you contact one division, your information will not automatically be updated in the other division.

How Can the Bar Get Involved?

The Dispute Resolution Section of the New Jersey State Bar Association and the Marie L. Garibaldi ADR Inn of court provide leadership on behalf of the Bar in both Court-connected CDR and private ADR programs. Members of the Bar serve on the Supreme Court Committee on Complementary Dispute Resolution and on vicinage advisory committees.

Attorneys serve as volunteer mediators and settlement facilitators; as paid arbitrators and mediators; and as counsel to litigants involved in disputes appropriate for CDR. With regard to this last, Rule 1:40-1 provides that "(a)ttorneys have a responsibility to become familiar with available CDR programs and inform their clients of them."

What do I need to do in order to participate in a CDR Program?

In order to participate in a court-annexed CDR program a law suit must be filed in the Superior Court. However, if you would like to participate in mediation at the Municipal Court level, please contact the Municipal Court Administrator in the municipality where the matter will be handled.

Where should I file a complaint against a mediator?

A written complaint against a volunteer mediator or a mediator listed on the Civil Mediators Search, Roster of Foreclosure Mediators or Roster of Family Mediators, must be sent to:

Advisory Committee on Mediator Standards
Attn: Manager, CDR Programs
Administrative Office of the Courts, Programs and Procedures Unit
Hughes Justice Complex
P.O. Box 988
Trenton, NJ 08625
If you have a complaint against a staff mediator, please send your written complaint to the Division Manager in the vicinage where the case is being litigated. Click here to read the Notice to the Bar regarding the Process for Complaints Against Mediators on Court Approved Mediation.

Where can I get information to help me represent myself in court?

Answer: If you are a self represented litigant, please refer to our Self-Help Resource Center forms page.

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