FILE - Lansing, Michigan

Some Michigan residents can now mediate small legal claims such as landlord issues and debts for free from their couch.

The state Supreme Court launched MI-Resolve, an online program that can resolve small claims, contract disputes and neighborhood disputes.

Users must have Internet access, an email address and be over 18 to agree to the terms and conditions of mediation.

One party files its dispute in the MI-Resolve portal, which notifies the other party.

The parties can chat and view resolutions through the portal, which could result in a legally binding agreement if agreed upon and signed digitally.

Users can call a neutral mediator for help.

Individuals do not need to have a case filed in court to use MI-Resolve, but they can settle pending cases before the court date.

More than two million Michiganders qualify for legal assistance in civil legal issues but can’t always access the resources due to financial or time constraints, Michigan Chief Justice Bridget McCormack said in a statement.

McCormack said she wants more legal situations to qualify for online mediation.

“Obviously not a custody dispute or a complicated divorce where somebody really needs a judge to adjudicate something, but disputes where both parties feel like they could benefit from a mediator and both don’t want to take time off work, we want to make this available to them,” she said.

McCormack said the portal could accelerate legal resolutions and provide options.

“If somebody really wants a judge to figure out how to resolve their dispute, they still can have that. You’re not forced to use this platform,” she said. “You use it if you want to and if you think you can come to a resolution through the platform with or without a mediator and without going to court.”

McCormack said MI-Resolve is a free option that will bring Michigan closer “to providing equal access to justice,” which will save time and money through clearing crowded courts.

“Right now, if somebody wants to resolve one of these kinds of disputes, they go to court, they file a complaint, they bring somebody else into court, court staff and judges use their time to resolve their disputes,” she said. “So, those are not free. Those are expensive.”

MI-Resolve is available in 17 of Michigan’s 83 counties, with plans to cover the state within three years, McCormack said.

The Michigan Attorney General’s Office told The Center Square that they applauded the new program.

“There have been many efforts at alternative dispute resolution and efforts to make small claims court more accessible,” Communications Director Kelly Rossman-McKinney told The Center Square. “This is a great move by the Michigan Supreme Court to make small claims court more accessible.”

McCormack said the program will lead the nation in harnessing technology to ease court access.

“Making court services more accessible means opening both real and virtual courtroom doors,” McCormack said in a press release. “With the help of groundbreaking services such as MI-Resolve, Michigan is a national leader in boosting access to justice online.”

Staff Writer

Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.