As we face the global COVID-19 pandemic, the court system has changed beyond recognition. The majority of the courts are closed, and urgent work is being conducted remotely while other non-urgent work is being adjourned. There seems to be a general consensus that anyone looking for a resolution should use alternative dispute resolution. And it is no surprise that family arbitration —bespoke, private, quick to set up and able to be conducted remotely on a variety of digital platforms—is becoming increasingly popular.
Family arbitration is a form of private judging. It can be used for most children and financial cases and is quicker and more flexible than going to court. As a result, it is often more cost-effective too. You can choose your arbitrator and match them to the type of expertise you need to resolve your dispute (and also to how much you can afford). You can set out what issues you want the arbitrator to decide and you will have a major say in how you want the whole process to be run.
If you are thinking about using arbitration to resolve a dispute, it is important to understand that the arbitrator’s decision (called an award in financial cases and a determination in children cases) will be binding on you and your ex. If you don’t like it, it’s not as simple as ignoring it and heading off to court to try again! Although you can challenge an arbitrator’s award, there are only very limited ways to do this. For example, you will need to show that there has been a serious procedural irregularity or that the arbitrator made a mistake in applying the law.
Challenging an award is difficult and few challenges are successful. This is a tribute both to the design of the arbitration scheme and to the skill and judgment of the arbitrators appointed. The overwhelming majority of arbitrated awards are clear, easy to read and understand, and deal with all the points raised so no one is left in any doubt as to what the arbitrator meant.
At Mills & Reeve, we have four qualified arbitrators who are able to act in children and/or financial disputes - Suzanne Kingston, Nigel Shepherd, Nick Stone and Caitlin Jenkins. Contact them here to find out more about this valuable alternative to court.