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Family arbitration

View profile for Geraldine Poulain
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Family arbitration – a quicker and more cost effective alternative to court proceedings.

Family arbitration is a method of resolving a dispute and an alternative to going to court where mediation and /or negotiations between parties, with or without their solicitors, have failed to result in an agreement. A separating couple can use this service perhaps where they have a dispute over finances or over the arrangements regarding the children, following the breakdown of their relationship.

Arbitration involves the couple putting their dispute in the hands of an independent person (usually an experienced family law solicitor or barrister), known as the Family arbitrator, instead of going to court. The arbitrator will gather all the facts and hear evidence from the parties and then make an award or ruling, which the parties will be bound by in the same way as if they went to court.

The family arbitrator will reach his or her decision by applying the law in the same way as a judge would if the parties were in court.

The process is confidential and is much more flexible than going to court as the parties can agree where and when to meet with the arbitrator. This means parties are not restricted to court opening times and they will be able to meet the arbitrator in a more comfortable and informal place than the court environment.

The whole arbitration process is also much quicker than going to court, where the parties will often have to wait a considerable time for a hearing date. They can also choose the arbitrator to deal with the dispute, unlike court proceedings where the parties have no such choice over who deals with their matter. The parties will also have the same arbitrator throughout the whole process, which is not the case in court proceedings where often each time the parties attend a court hearing, they will be seen by a different judge.

The arbitrator will have more time to prepare for the arbitration hearing by reading the papers in advance. Unfortunately, judges do not always have time to do so because of their heavy workload and the pressures on the court system.

In some situations, it is also possible for the arbitrator to deal with the dispute simply on paper and/or by speaking to the parties on the telephone rather than having face to face meetings. This can lead to an even speedier result for the couple.

Arbitration is different to mediation in that the arbitrator will reach a decision for the parties after hearing evidence from them. With mediation, the mediator will simply help the parties reach their own agreement but the mediator will not enforce an agreement on them. With arbitration therefore, the couple are guaranteed a final decision by agreeing to put their dispute in the hands of an arbitrator.

The cost of using the arbitration process is likely to be a much less costly way of resolving a dispute than issuing court proceedings.

It is recommended that any person wishing to participate in arbitration, should take legal advice before doing so.  At Neves we regard this as a positive development in the legal services we can offer to clients as it offers a faster and more focussed service than is currently available from the courts, thus potentially less expensive. We would be happy to discuss it in more detail with clients and we can provide you with legal advice on the issues which are in dispute and recommend family arbitrators whilst discussing whether the process would be advisable in your case. 

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