Arbitration in family law : another tool in the box of out-of-court methods of dispute resolution

Along with mediation and collaborative law, arbitration offers an alternative to court for couples, to assist them with the resolution of issues arising on divorce and separation.  Arbitration, enables parties to resolve disputes in a more flexible and less formal setting than a court room.

Arbitration involves the couple appointing a trained arbitrator to make binding decisions on issues that they cannot agree on.   Arbitration has some similarities to court proceedings – in that the couple are asking a third party to make decisions for them and it is certainly recommended that couples have legal representation; however there are several important differences:

1. Timing and speed – the couple appoint the arbitrator and agree the timing of the decision making.   Currently the courts are overstretched, with too many cases and not enough resources. Couples are waiting considerable periods of time for court hearings, with the expense and anxiety of their case carrying on and on.

2. The process is confidential unlike final court hearings, where it is possible there may be publicity and press present.

3. It is a flexible process – the couple can choose their arbitrator from a list of trained professionals and agree with the arbitrator the areas where decisions are needed.

4. Couples have to meet the fees of the arbitrator and any legal representatives; but given the benefits in terms of time and flexibility, overall the process is likely to cost less than fighting in court. It is also certain to facilitate a much earlier resolution with the benefits this brings to all the family.

Arbitration is different to mediation in that the arbitrator makes a binding ruling for the couple, whereas the mediator helps couples reach their own settlement by agreement.  It is possible for a couple going through mediation to ask an arbitrator to make a decision on an issue or issues, they cannot agree on between themselves.

The family law arbitration scheme has been  set up by the Institute of Family Law Arbitrators (IFLA), a not for profit organisation, created by the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb), the Family Law Bar Association, and the family lawyers’ group Resolution, in association with the Centre for Child and Family Law Reform.  You can find further details of the scheme and how to start a family arbitration at

If you want to discuss how family law arbitration might assist you and your spouse/partner, contact Kim Finnis on 01483 539100.