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Family Arbitration: An alternative to the divorce courts?

Arbitration is steadily becoming an attractive option for couples aiming to resolve their financial situation on divorce. Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, the court backlog for family cases has increased by a further 18%. Whilst the courts regularly have a backlog of cases, it is suggested that this increase is not likely to return to normal levels until 2023.

One of our Lancashire solicitors, family expert Judith O’Brien, gives an introduction into arbitration and its purpose in settling disputes on divorce.

What is arbitration?

Opposing parties agree to appoint an independent arbitrator whose role is to reach a final binding decision about the family matters in dispute. The issues in dispute usually include financial and property division, but can include children issues in some circumstance. Arbitration is more formal than mediation in that a binding agreement is reached, but less formal than a court setting because the parties have the major say in how the proceedings are run. With greater flexibility including the choice of venue, whether the parties meet in person or remotely and the absence of huge waiting times, it is clear to see why this might be a viable option for many divorcing couples.

Case Study

A case at the end of 2020 saw a couple who decided to refer to arbitration because their final hearing to resolve their matrimonial finances was cancelled by the court at very short notice. Without knowing when the hearing would be relisted, neither party wished to wait for an indefinite period of time and instead agreed to begin arbitration with a view to settling matters quickly.

Ironically and quite unusually, the husband considered that the outcome reached during arbitration was both wrong and unfair, meaning that ultimately it had to be referred back to the court. He argued that the arbitrator’s assessment of his ability to rehouse himself to an acceptable standard was incorrect and he did not agree that the division of the assets in favour of the wife were fair.

Is it for me?

Do not let this case be a reason to deter from initiating arbitration, if you feel it is the right approach for your situation. Prior to this case, many family lawyers take the view that contesting an arbitration award is unlikely to be successful and this case is rare; it will not be easy to challenge an arbitrator’s decision.

You might think you have no option but to go to court to settle your dispute, but with the right professional giving you specialist advice, it may not even come to that. If you need assistance setting up arbitration, mediation or with court proceedings, we can help.

We have a team of experienced family law experts who cover the Furness, South Cumbria and Morecambe Bay areas. Seeking advice early can save you precious time and money, so do not delay and contact us now for more information.

The content of this post does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon. The content is subject to change and we accept no liability for individuals relying on the information within this article. Lancashire Solicitors

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Judith O’Brien - Divorce & Family Solicitor

Written by:

Judith O’Brien

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