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Arbitration – Everyone can have their cake and eat it…

Like an increasing number of couples in their situation, Paul Hollywood and his former wife have decided, sensibly, to settle the financial aspects of their case through arbitration.

There is lots of lurid press speculation as to why this might be the case, but I suspect, from what I have seen, that such speculation is pretty much wide of the mark. There is nothing unusual in this decision – which is using a process that has only been available in recent years – to resolve matters.

Arbitration is basically “private law”.  It is open to anyone to undertake – not just celebrities or the super-wealthy.  Indeed, in my own practice, both as arbitrator and solicitor, arbitration is being used more and more by ordinary families.  The reason for this is simple – the massive under funding of the justice department over the last nine years or so has meant that the court has become more or less non-functional.  If you reach a point in your case whereby you have not been able to come to an agreement with your former partner, the wait for a final hearing – where a Judge will listen to evidence and make a determination as to ‘who gets what’ – can often be up to a year away (and that is after having been in the court process for a few months already!) .

A year’s wait means a further 12 months where your divorce and separation hangs over your head.  It means that legal costs are needlessly increased as “side arguments” develop between you which would not otherwise have happened if you could have had a determination of your divorce swiftly and effectively.  It also means that neither of you can get on with your lives or plan or make decisions in relation to your children.  Such time between hearings weighs very heavily on most people.  And with arbitration you can avoid having to wait.

Arbitration means that you can timetable your hearing to dates that suit you and your legal team.  You can have a final decision in your case in as little time as a fortnight to six weeks – depending on how advanced your case maybe.

This is an enormous cost saving to both parties, but the real saving is the emotional strain that is avoided by a quick determination.

Whilst you do need to pay for your arbitrator, that cost is shared between you and is swiftly eroded by the convenience and speed with which a hearing can be held.  Arbitration is also generally more cost effective than court because what would be a two/three day final hearing in court generally becomes, given the bespoke nature of arbitration, a one day hearing (which saves you both money).

Unlike court, the arbitrator, who has all the powers of a High Court Judge, focuses on your case alone – making it more streamlined.   Court Judges have several other matters listed at the same time as your case that they need to deal with at a time when you are wanting them to deal with your case and for them to be focused on your matter.

Arbitration is also a more friendly process, as neither of you have to suffer the strain of being in a formal court situation.

As you both pick your arbitrator, generally on your solicitor’s recommendation, you are guaranteed to have an expert decide your case.  You may not like the final decision, but at least you know that it was a decision made by someone who knows what they are doing; whereas the Court process is now so broken, you can have a final hearing involving a complex financial matter being heard by a Judge who simply doesn’t normally deal with that area of law or have the skills to deal with that type of case.  It’s like arriving for an operation for  heart surgery and finding your surgeon is actually a dermatologist.

So actually, what Paul Hollywood and his former wife have chosen, having been unable to agree up to this point, is to end this matter swiftly, with the help of an expert in the area of law,  cost effectively and without prolonged delay (with all the stress that provides), so that they can both get on with their lives.

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