Written by Claire Webb

Mediator at Mediation Now

Claire has worked in family law since 1990. She was previously Head of the Family Department at Versiona Law. She is a member of  the Law Society Family Panel and is a Resolution Accredited Specialist in Co-habitation and Children Law.

Claire’s  approachable demeanour  immediately puts clients at ease in what can be very stressful circumstances. She has an ability to get to the nub of a matter and assist clients in finding practical solutions. Katharine Hetzel, Biscoes.

Arbitration is the latest process available to couples that want to end their marriage or civil partnership. It combines the emphasis on communication and benefits from avoiding court found through Mediation with the legally binding ruling associated with Court as Arbitrator.

What is involved in Arbitration?

Both parties are invited to attend a voluntary meeting with an Arbitrator to discuss finances, assets and provision for any children the couple share. The Arbitrator will listen to each party, examine all the written evidence brought by the couple, lead discussions to explore all possible solutions and ask any questions before making decisions.

Arbitration works best if a couple are in the same room, there is no need for lawyers, but many people do bring their lawyers with them Arbitration can be accessed at any point – as the first course of action, after/during Mediation or as an alternative to waiting for Court.

What is an Arbitrator?

An Arbitrator is a legally trained professional with a minimum of 10 years’ post-qualification experience in family law. Candidates must be nominated and approved for training and, if successful, go on to attend intensive courses which consist of lectures, audiences with top judges and role playing scenarios. There are only around 100 Arbitrators currently in the UK.

What is the difference between Arbitration and Mediation?

The outcome. What an Arbitrator decides for a couple is final and legally binding. For individuals who fear that any agreement made in Mediation won’t be stuck to in the real world, Arbitration offers the same assurance and guarantee as an Order from the Court.

Arbitration is an evolution of Mediation. If Mediation fails, couples are usually sent to Arbitration or Court. In Canada, the authorities have created ‘Med-Arb’ which, as the name suggests, combines the two processes, so if a couple cannot come to an agreement in six sessions, the Mediator becomes an Arbitrator and makes decisions.

Are children involved?

In accordance with the government’s ‘Voice of the Child’ initiative, children can have their wishes and feelings expressed through an interview with and report from an independent social worker. This would incur a small cost for parents wanting their children’s input.

Can an Arbitrator’s decision be appealed?

Only if there has been an error in law, not for any personal reason.

What are the advantages of Arbitration?

  • Couples can wait months for a case to be heard in court, but Arbitration can take place as soon as the couple are able to arrange the meeting and be resolved that same day.
  • The courtroom can be an intimidating and hostile place for many people. The relative informality of three people having a discussion is often much more appealing and a couple can find more creative solutions outside the constraints of the law.
  • Unlike Mediation, the Arbitrator has the power to step in and make decisions that are legally binding and final.
  • Arbitration will cost the couple £750 each Whilst it is true that a court appearance to resolve matters relating to children cost £215, that is without any legal representation (never the best idea) or expenses which mount up considerably.
  • Being able to be in the same room, enter into discussion and resolve issues makes for a positive future, especially for parents who will be co-parenting children. Just because a relationship is finished, does not mean a family is.

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