Arbitration is an alternative to court where a separating couple appoints an arbitrator to make a decision on any financial or property-related issues.
It is different to mediation and collaborative practice because it will fix a final and legally binding outcome to the case (usually referred to as a ‘final award’), rather than the decision-making resting with you and your ex-partner.
As with mediation and collaborative practice, you can’t be forced into arbitration. You must either agree who will arbitrate the issue, or have an arbitrator appointed from an independent panel. Once both of you have decided to use arbitration, the only way to stop the process before the final award is if you both agree.
Generally, there is an initial meeting where information is given about arbitration and, if you both want to use it, the steps to the final award are fixed. Because the process is tailored to the issues involved, it is usually very much faster than the court process and can be a lot less expensive. The arbitrator can deal with very specific financial aspects of the separation, or with all of them. This is up to you.
Arbitration is confidential and the time and location of hearings are flexible.
Arbitrators are usually barristers, solicitors, or retired judges who have trained and qualified as a family law arbitrator with the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. They also must work to a set code of ethics as family law arbitrators.
The cost of arbitration varies across the country and from arbitrator to arbitrator. If you choose to go down the route of arbitration, the cost will be something you and your ex-partner need to consider.
It is possible and sometimes easier to present your own case in arbitration than at court. The procedure is more informal but there are benefits in having support and advice through the process. You should bear this in mind if you are thinking about family law arbitration as it would be an additional cost.
You can search for arbitrators via the Institute of Family Law Arbitrators.
There are risks with an appeal process, just as there is at court. Where an appeal process is needed, such as if the arbitrator has not acted properly or within the rules of arbitration, enforcement of the award may involve additional steps and therefore further costs.
The risks and benefits are something that will be explained and can be considered at the first meeting so that you can decide if arbitration might work for both of you and your circumstances.