I recently returned from the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers Arbitration Training Institute as a Certified Family Law Arbitrator. A few words about family law arbitration: Arbitration falls within the category of alternative dispute resolution ("ADR"). It can be a very helpful tool to resolve family conflict. Contested litigation is the traditional method to resolve legal disputes arising from family law matters, but contested litigation can be a time consuming and expensive process. As a result of the frustration and expense that many have experienced from being engaged in contested family law litigation, there has been a push in recent years to resolve family law matters through various ADR procedures, such as mediation, conciliation, and arbitration.
Like mediation, arbitration is a voluntary process. Parties to a family law arbitration agree by contract to submit part or all of their dispute to a decision maker - the Arbitrator. The parties and the Arbitrator are in full control of the specific issues submitted, how, where, and when the arbitration will be conducted, and whether the Arbitrator's decision will be binding and final. Most arbitrations are less formal and time consuming than courtroom hearings or trials. They certainly are much more private - conducted in the privacy of the Arbitrator's office or conference room.
Arbitration can also be an excellent next step for those who have already attempted to negotiate settlements with the help of a Mediator. Sometimes mediation breaks down when the parties are unable to come to an agreement on one or two major sticking points. Under such circumstances, due to the flexibility that ADR provides in general, the parties can come to an agreement on the majority of issues through mediation, and leave a final decision on any remaining contested issues to an Arbitrator.
Similarly, arbitration is frequently built into the body of mediated agreements when there are decisions that the parties will have to make in the future. For example, if there is a future dispute over adjustments to alimony or child support, or over respective contributions to college expenses, these issues can be brought to an Arbitrator for decision-making if necessary.
For more information about family law arbitration, feel free to call us to discuss the process in greater detail.