On Monday, April 5, 2021, Fairfax County General District Court began piloting a new Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) program for Small Claims cases. Instead of coming to court, this program allows individuals to resolve their cases using a smartphone, tablet, or other internet-connected device. It allows 24/7 access to dispute resolution, including the free option for a mediator to help resolve the dispute.
All Small Claims cases that are filed with the Court will now be automatically enrolled into the ODR program. The plaintiff(s) will receive instructions on how to register and use the system when they file the case, and the defendant(s) will be served with similar instructions. Both parties are expected to register with the system.
The parties can begin negotiating as soon as each side has registered. The system allows for text-based communication, and even includes the ability to attach photos and other documents as needed. If both parties are able to come to an agreement, the system walks the parties through the process of writing the agreement and collecting signatures digitally. If the agreement is received by the Court before the court date, then neither party needs to attend court.
If the negotiation takes longer than 14 days from the filing of the case, the system will prompt the parties to request a mediator if needed. In addition, a mediator can be requested at any time before or after this prompt if desired, but cannot be requested within 7 days of the court date. A mediator will join the conversation and facilitate discussions between the parties with the goal of reaching an agreement. This service is free to all parties. If the mediator is able to facilitate an agreement between the parties, and that agreement is received by the Court before the court date, then neither party needs to attend court.
The ODR system contains answers to many questions about how it is used on its own FAQ page. Click on the button above to visit the ODR system and then click "FAQ" to read more. Digital copies of the information and instructions provided to the parties are available below: