What is family law arbitration?
Arbitration is an alternative to court where you choose a qualified specialist arbitrator to make a decision on your dispute. It is a relatively recent development in family law, but it is one that enables parties to deal with their dispute on their own terms and with a swift outcome. It is an ideal way forward when a dispute has become intractable and a binding decision needs to be made by a third party quickly and decisively.
Family arbitration has many advantages over traditional litigation. It offers greater choice, flexibility and control in comparison to the court process. You can tailor-make your arbitration so that it is personal to your case and so it can be a more satisfactory way to settle matters that have otherwise become unsolvable.
A bespoke process offering you greater control
If you choose family arbitration as a way of resolving your dispute, you and your ex-partner select the arbitrator, timescale and location for meetings, as well as which element(s) of your dispute you would like to resolve.
A solicitor-led family arbitration allows your needs and practicalities to take priority and avoids the formalities of a courtroom process and procedure. As you choose the “judge” for your case, you have complete assurance that your family arbitrator specialises exclusively in the area of family law you need and has the necessary expertise to understand all the nuances involved.
How long will family arbitration take?
In your initial meeting with the arbitrator, you are able to agree a timetable that suits you. This means that your dispute could be resolved within weeks (rather than the 18 months to 2 years which is typical in the court system).
The speed at which your dispute can be arbitrated will crucially offer you significant savings in cost and stress. The flexibility of choosing your timeframe and venues also gives you greater control.
The process is also considerably less formal. So the strain of having to attend court with the archaic language and formality is removed − again making it a more bespoke process for you.
The arbitrator’s decision, once made, is as binding as a High Court judge’s. Unlike court, the arbitrator will have plenty of time to prepare and will have read and understood the details in your case; he or she will be fully prepared. Unfortunately, the court cannot offer that level of care and most judges will have read nothing about your case, relying on barristers to help them understand the issues.
Family arbitration can also be used alongside the court process. If an issue has arisen along the way that needs to be determined, arbitration can deal with that discrete issue for you, enabling you to move forward with your litigation.
Arbitration is ideal where you have been in mediation but have not been able to agree some or all of the issues between you. So rather than having to start the process all over again in litigation, you can move to arbitration saving you time, stress and money.
Any aspect of the financial dispute between you can be dealt with through arbitration; from who keeps what possessions, to providing a resolution to your entire financial dispute.
Equally, in disputes about children, family law arbitration can resolve a particular point as a standalone issue (e.g. travel or holiday arrangements, schooling) or all the arrangements for the children, including where they live and the time they spend with each parent.
Julian Bremner, a partner of the firm, is a financial arbitrator and will be able to arbitrate financial disputes successfully. He has successfully run cases in arbitration and has sat as an arbitrator himself in financial disputes.
Emily Watson, also a partner of the firm, is a children arbitrator and will be able to arbitrate children disputes successfully for you.
What stages are involved in the family arbitration process?
The process is broken down into three broad stages:
Stage 1: Preparation
You choose your family arbitrator and agree whether you are going to use the process to resolve the whole dispute, or a discrete part of it. You can also choose where and when the meetings take place.
Stage 2: The family arbitration process
Your first meeting will be via a conference call. You can have your solicitors or barristers (or both) present if that is how you would like to proceed.
You will agree the timescales which would ideally suit you as well as determine what needs to be done by all parties to meet that timescale and present your case for arbitration. After this, you can choose whether to continue the process through face-to-face meetings (which can be as similar or dissimilar to the court process as you both would like) or by written communication.
Stage 3: Conclusion
There will then be a hearing of your case. This can be with all parties around a table, on the telephone or simply via paperwork. The arbitrator will be fully engaged in your case and make sure that the time is effectively used. Much like a decision made in court, the family arbitrator makes a final decision. Fees are settled and the family arbitrator puts the decision in writing, including written reasons and can also provide you with a draft order to be filed in court (if you do not have a solicitor to do so for you). The arbitration will be respected by the court and upon request made an Order of the Court within a matter of days.
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