I have previously written about Child Arbitration as an alternative to court proceedings and the various benefits it brings to the parties. One of the key benefits is the speed of the final decision.
Whereas contested court proceedings can easily take over a year to final hearing, arbitration can deal with the issues extremely speedily, which is a significant advantage where both parties agree that a decision needs to be made quickly for the benefit of the children.
I recently put this to the test when I was instructed as an arbitrator by two parties to decide on the choice of schools for their children. The children were due to start school in the week commencing 4 September and had places at two competing schools, which the parents were unable to agree. They had applied to Court in early August and asked for an urgent hearing, but the first hearing was not listed until late October. Realistically no decision would be made at that initial hearing and it could be many more months before there would be clarity for the children.
The parents’ solicitors first made enquiries as to my availability to make an urgent decision on 18 August. They subsequently agreed to appoint me and signed the form committing them to the process on 30 August. They had my final written decision (akin to a court judgment) on 1 September, prior to the children’s start of term. From the initial enquiry to the final decision took a total of 2 weeks. From my formal instruction to the binding decision took 2 days.
Of course not every decision could be dealt with that quickly. Much will depend on the facts of the case and the evidence already available for consideration by the arbitrator. Safeguarding checks need to be carried out and evidence compiled on behalf of the parents. If the parents want to be represented by counsel, their availability also needs to be factored in. However what is clear is that when the facts align, arbitration can result in a binding decision very quickly indeed.
Schooling decisions are often time-pressured in a way which the courts simply cannot accommodate. Other such decisions include whether a parent should have permission to take the children for a holiday abroad, or division of holiday time between the parents (e.g. who gets Christmas this year?). Such decisions are of vital importance to the family but are unlikely to be considered sufficiently serious by the courts to warrant an urgent hearing.