A dog barking in a yard.

Q. I can't resolve a dispute with my neighbors over their barking dog. Should I hire a lawyer or a mediator?

A. When deciding whether to hire a lawyer or a mediator in a dispute, it's important to understand the different roles they play, says Octavio Blanco, a CR money editor and New York State-certified mediator.

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A lawyer works within the court system and represents his or her client's interests. The other party also has a lawyer. A neutral judge or jury decides how the dispute is resolved, unless the two sides come to an agreement before that. A mediator is also neutral and listens to both sides to help them reach an agreement.

Compared with a lawsuit, mediation is more collaborative from the beginning, is generally less expensive, and takes place outside the courts. A mediator does not issue a decision, as a judge or jury would, but takes each side's interests into consideration and encourages both to come to a compromise. Once there's an agreement, each side signs a contract.

Arbitration, which also takes place outside the courts, is different from mediation because the arbitrator issues a decision that is binding. CR opposes arbitration when it is forced on consumers in a contract for service, before a dispute arises, because it limits how consumers can exercise their legal rights.

"Bear in mind that mediation works only if both sides are open to compromise and willing to participate voluntarily," Blanco says. If that’s not the case, your best bet would probably be to hire a lawyer.  

For more on how "border wars" can lead to uncomfortable situations, read "How to Resolve Neighbor Disputes."

Also, if you're living with a similar neighborhood nuisance, you can share your story with us. Your response could be featured in an upcoming article for Consumer Reports. 

Editors Note: This article also appeared in the September 2018 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.