What is arbitration in family law?
Family law arbitration is a method of resolving disputes over finances, property or children when a couple divorce or separate. It is an alternative to asking a Judge in the family courts for a final decision and can be used alongside the traditional court process.
How does arbitration work in family law?
Both parties are normally represented by a solicitor and they agree to jointly appoint an independent family law arbitrator, commit to the arbitration process and abide by the decisions of the arbitrator.
The arbitrator is a specially trained solicitor or barrister who will consider submissions and evidence from both parties, to understand what each wants, before making a binding decision. Any decision reached through arbitration will be captured in a legally binding document and subsequently lodged with the court.
When can arbitration be used in family law cases?
Arbitration can be used by married and unmarried couples to settle disputes related to:
- Child maintenance
- Living arrangements and contact with your children
- Specific issues
Arbitration with Woolley & Co
Woolley & Co lawyers always consider all forms of dispute resolution and will often advice clients to consider mediation and try negotiation before resorting to the courts or an arbitrator for a decision. If you decide on arbitration your lawyer will prepare your case to present to the arbitrator and support you through the arbitration process. If necessary, they will also advise on the selection of experts and barristers.
Benefits of arbitration
Choose a judge: Anyone who’s been involved in a family law dispute about finances or children will recall being told by their lawyer about “litigation risk.” How there is no choice of judge for that all-important trial or negotiation hearing and you must take “pot-luck.” Not all judges are experts in family law. The same is not true of arbitration, where the parties agree on the person who will ‘judge’ their case and can select an arbitrator with the relevant experience.
Trained arbitrators, normally barristers or other qualified lawyers, are almost like a private judge. The arbitrator is chosen and agreed upon by both parties and so you can be confident they will have the expertise needed because you make sure of it as part of the process.
Like a judge the arbitrator will be fair and impartial, they will consider all the facts that you present to them and decide based on those facts.
Run your own timetable: As family lawyers one of the most frustrating factors we deal with on behalf of our clients is the court timetable. Lawyers and their clients have no control over when their case will be heard by the Courts. It is not uncommon for Court cases to be cancelled or postponed at the last minute due to pressures on judge’s time.
In arbitration you and your ex-partner appoint the arbitrator and agree the times, dates and location of any meetings. This normally means things are dealt with much more quickly, and you can be sure the same person will deal with your case throughout, as opposed to having a different judge each time your case is in court.
Instead of waiting months for a court date you can often agree a date for arbitration within a week and settle within a month.
A flexible approach: You can make the decision to arbitrate at any time. For example, if a hearing is adjourned or the date of the hearing is too far in the future you can agree to switch to arbitration. You can also decide to have a paperwork arbitration on a straight-forward matter or single issue. In this case the arbitrator is sent the relevant paperwork by both parties and makes their decision having reviewed all the facts.
Legal advice throughout: A family lawyer would be responsible for preparing for the arbitration meeting in the same way that they would for a court hearing, to ensure all relevant facts are considered. Unlike mediation your lawyer can be present at the arbitration meeting, to provide you with advice and guidance before you make any binding decisions.
Confidentiality: perhaps one of the greatest benefits, especially for high profile cases is the confidentiality that arbitration affords. Courts are now anxious to be transparent and be seen to be so, therefore family cases are open to public scrutiny. With arbitration there is no “public access” to the hearing. So private company, business or family issues remain just that, private.
Lower costs: The cost of arbitration can be a lot less than going to court, especially when you factor in the added speed, flexibility and control it affords you. Whilst you will need to pay the arbitrator there will be no court fees and you will often find you are able to reach an agreement at a single meeting, when previously you might have attended multiple court hearings.
Summary: Arbitration in divorce
Arbitration can be a quicker, cheaper and more private way to resolve disputes around finances and children in divorce. If you are in dispute with your ex about money or arrangements for the care of your children talk to your lawyer about family arbitration.