Family Arbitration UK: a Safety Measure for Divorce?

family arbitration

Suzy Miller of Alternative Divorce Guide

In this article, I explore how family arbitration UK could provide an element of psychological security on the bumpy road of the divorce journey.

I interviewed a range of family arbitrators about whether arbitration saves the client money, and whether the arbitrator’s decision is always enforceable by law.

As the court system struggles to keep it’s head above the rising fiscal tide, the reduced access to legal aid for court cases and ensuing explosion of DIY divorces clogging up the already overburdened courts, a long term viable solution needs to be found – and found quickly.

But isn’t it already here?

Despite some serious battles for recognition and still a long way to go to become established as the divorce option of choice, Mediation is surely the intelligent way to resolve differences of opinion during a divorce. However, the reality is that sometimes it’s necessary to agree to disagree on some issues – and that’s where an Arbitrator has such a powerful role to play.

That disagreement can be handed over to a specialist in that particular field, an Arbitrator, and their decision allows the mediation process to then continue, or be brought to a happy conclusion.

It’s a bit like when seat belts were brought in. I remember ardent Liberals complaining that enforced wearing of seat belts was denying people their right to take care of their own safety, but these days, I doubt there are many people who would rally the Government to change the law back to ‘choose for yourself’.

One day in the future, people may look back at the divorce process of our current times and marvel at how many initially amicable divorces crumbled into a fight in court, and be amazed to learn that the safety belt of Arbitration was there waiting in the wings to be used, if only the clients had fully understood it’s benefits.

Can family arbitration save clients money?

It is fair to point out that compared to getting the court forms for a divorce and going the DIY route with no complex financial issues to resolve and no disagreement, obviously Arbitration will add cost on top if you need some help in resolving a dispute and choose not to use mediation or the collaborative law process.

Family arbitration UK
Can family arbitration save clients money?

“In many cases, it will be more expensive to arbitrate, because the parties will be paying the fees of the arbitrator whereas going to court involves no direct cost once the application fee is met. Of course, you’re right to say that arbitration is quicker which normally involves less expense (time is money), but I’m not sure I’d say it’s always the cheaper option.” Alexander Chandler (Barrister & Arbitrator Chambers of Deborah Eaton QC and Philip Marshall QC).

Alexander is making a fair point about the cost of court being less than the cost of Arbitration if you only count in the court fees.

From what I can see, family Arbitration provides an excellent alternative to going to court – cheaper, quicker and possibly fairer, bearing in mind how some family court judges have far less training and expertise in family law than a qualified Family Arbitrator does.

Time is money, and Arbitration can save a great deal of time – especially compared to going to court. Arbitrators can be accessed for as little as £500 depending on which Arbitrator you choose and the required specialised experience, which is a lot less than what you will pay for barristers and court time – especially if the dispute is a complex financial issue.

The process is flexible and allows for disclosure to be provided in an efficient manner which suits the issues to be resolved rather than the “one size fits all” method which the court uses. This clearly has an immediate costs saving for all concerned. Solicitors retain their involvement throughout and they have clients who are content because they have achieved an outcome, even if it is not the outcome they wanted, without the costs and unpleasantness of the court.” Clare (Sibson) Thornton, Thornton Jones Family Law.

It’s not just the money in the divorcees pockets that could be saved using arbitration, but also the State has much to gain financially as well in reducing the time litigants spend in court by finding quicker, cheaper solutions.

“By comparison, Arbitration is quick, cheap, private and confidential and the person making the decision is an experienced family practitioner who has been through a very difficult assessment process to be admitted as an Arbitrator.” Olive McCarthy, Breeze & Wyles

Is Arbitration legally binding? Does it have any teeth?  Find out in Part 2

For more information regarding Family Arbitration, refer to the IFLA website: http://ifla.org.uk/.

Suzy Miller

Alternative Divorce Guide


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