What is arbitration?
Arbitration is a process for resolving all types of disputes involving financial and children matters in family cases. It is flexible, confidential and can save time and cost and so can be the best choice for some situations. You and your partner appoint a specialist family arbitrator to settle the issues between you. Arbitration is a voluntary process (no one can be compelled to adopt this process) but once it has started, it will deliver an outcome that will bind you both.
Rather than focusing on helping you and your partner to reach agreement, the arbitrator will impose an outcome on both of you. If you doubt your former partner’s ability to reach a sensible agreement it can be reassuring to know that you will exit the process with a decision which provides finality. There will always be some cases where, for whatever reason, agreement simply cannot be reached. It is in relation to these cases that arbitration can provide the best forum to finalise the issues between you.
Why use arbitration?
Arbitration can have many advantages. The flexible nature of arbitration can make it a quicker, cheaper and much less formal process than the traditional Court process:
Time saving: Unlike the Court imposed timetable, the timing of an arbitration can be tailored to suit your requirements. You do not have to wait for several months for Court dates and are not stuck with the time that the Court allocates for the hearing.
Privacy and confidentiality: Arbitration hearings are not open to the public or press. This makes arbitration particularly suitable for resolving sensitive or highly confidential matters.
Tailored process: The arbitrator decides only the issues that you agree need to be resolved and will decide the procedures to settle those issues fairly and to avoid unnecessary delay or expense. If you choose to have face to face meetings as part of the arbitration, you can be represented (by a solicitor or a barrister) but the process does not require this and you may decide to represent yourself. You can even decide to have a “paper hearing” where the arbitrator makes a decision based on the written submissions made to him by the parties and no face to face meetings take place. Some clients find that this process removes much of the stress associated with the overall process.
Choosing your arbitrator: You are able to select the arbitrator best suited to decide the issues that you have identified as needing to be resolved. You can choose an arbitrator who is an expert in the relevant issues. And, (barring the unforeseen), unlike the Court process, you will have the same arbitrator for all hearings. This means that the process can move forward in a more focused and, therefore, more economic way.
Cost savings: Overall there are likely to be significant cost savings from using arbitration rather than the traditional Court-based process.
A client who has used arbitration recently commented:
“…without your (James Pirrie and Charlotte Symes) guidance and patience we would not have received this ending. I recall wanting to give up as I was so overwhelmed and exhausted and you guys kept me strong and going. So the thank you and well done is deserved by both of you!”
What issues can it address?
Family arbitration can be used to resolve financial issues and matters relating to your children (eg. residence, schooling or contact) arising from your relationship breakdown. At Family Law in Partnership we have been involved in a number of arbitrations either acting as an arbitrator or as a solicitor for a party whose case is being decided by arbitration. The matters that these cases have involved include:
- division of complex financial assets, some of which were located overseas;
- provision for school fees and tertiary education;
- resolving the remainder of issues which the collaborative process had failed to settle;
- financial and housing provision for a child with special educational needs;
- dispute over a family pet;
- relocation of children in anticipation of the start of the new school year;
- variation of spousal maintenance payments; and
- financial entitlements of an unmarried couple.
Directors James Pirrie and Bradley Williams, together with consultant Felicity Shedden, are qualified family arbitrators for financial disputes. James Pirrie and Felicity Shedden, along with director Gillian Bishop, are also qualified children arbitrators. They are all members of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. They are happy to discuss (without obligation) whether arbitration might be suitable for a particular case and, if so, what fee arrangements might be appropriate.
“Arbitration provides a way for separating couples to avoid the cost and time involved in lengthy court proceedings“, explains James Pirrie who advised on the first reported case concerning an arbitration, reported as S v S  EWHC 7 Fam. “It took only eight weeks between committing to the arbitration process and getting the final arbitration decision in the SvS matter. If this case had gone through the full court process it could have taken between nine and fifteen months – or even longer. The costs are also greatly reduced. I would estimate that this reasonably complex case was resolved for about a quarter of what it would have cost using the normal court process“.
For further information, read our blogs on arbitration:
- Is Mediation to Arbitration the answer when parents can’t agree?
- Could Mediation to Arbitration help in Family Mediations?
- Children Arbitration – Using Arbitration for Children Disputes
- Children Arbitration – A Real Life Case Study
- Children Arbitration – Another Real Life Case Study
- An Analysis of the new Children Arbitration Scheme
James Pirrie and Felicity Shedden are both members of FamilyArbitrator an organisation which aims to promote an informed understanding of family arbitration principles and to encourage the spread of arbitration as a form of private dispute resolution in financial and child related family cases.