Arbitration in Family Law Cases

February 7, 2024

Divorce and family disputes are emotionally charged, and the traditional court system sometimes can feel like navigating a legal whitewater rapid. Fortunately, arbitration offers a calmer, more efficient and confidential method for resolving these sensitive matters. The longer Dawn Smith, Partner at Evolve Family Law does this work, the more she is aware of the firm belief that the courtroom is rarely a place to resolve family disputes. Even with good judges, scarce judicial resources and overwhelming caseloads can frequently result in a cookie cutter results rather than one that is nuanced and meets the unique needs of your family.

Many people are not aware of the availability of the alternative dispute resolution process known as arbitration. In arbitration, the parties agree on a seasoned subject matter expert to serve as the private judge to resolve their dispute. A party cannot be forced to arbitration; instead the use of arbitration requires the consent of the parties. Once the parties agree to send their dispute to arbitration, parties and/or their counsel work with the chosen arbitrator to fashion a schedule and process that fits the unique needs of the case.

Why should you consider arbitration for your family law case? Here are some compelling reasons:

1. Subject Matter Expertise: Good family law arbitrators have developed specialization over the years that may be essential to understanding you case. These areas of expertise may include: knowledge of child development and current research on children in conflict; expertise in the needs of neurodivergent children; experience and knowledge about best practices on cases involving children who resist seeing a parent; background in business valuation, high asset division of assets, unique compensation plans; and an up-to-date knowledge on the case law and statutes applicable to your domestic relations case.

2. Speed and Efficiency: Court backlogs can lead to years of waiting and uncertainty. Arbitration, on the other hand, allows faster resolution, often within months instead of years. This reduces stress and financial strain for both parties.

3. Confidentiality and Privacy: Unlike public court proceedings, arbitration is confidential. This protects your family's privacy and sensitive details from public scrutiny. Going to court automatically means that anyone from the public can attend and, if your hearing or trial is virtual, may watch it on You Tube. No family wants their private affairs to be aired for all to see. There is no requirement that a private family law arbitration be open to the public and counsel and the arbitrator can discuss ways to protect your family's privacy.

4. Control and Flexibility: You and your spouse choose the arbitrator, a neutral third party with expertise in family law. This allows you to tailor the process to your specific needs and preferences, unlike the standardized court system. Importantly, a party is more likely in arbitration to have the time needed to present a full picture of what is right for the family. Juxtapose this to court where litigants are often held to strict time limits that do not begin to allow for a full presentation of the issues.

5. Less Formal Setting: Arbitration allows for a more relaxed and less adversarial atmosphere compared to courtroom proceedings. This can foster better communication and cooperation, potentially leading to a more amicable resolution.

6. Cost-Effectiveness: While arbitration fees exist, the overall cost compared to litigation can be lower due to its efficiency and streamlined process. Additionally, reduced stress and quicker resolution can benefit your long-term well-being.

Ultimately, the decision of whether to choose arbitration rests with you and your spouse. Carefully weigh the pros and cons, and consult with a qualified family law attorney to understand your options and determine the best path forward for your unique situation.

Dawn Smith is certified and has served as an arbitrator in family law cases for years. Her experience as arbitrator affirms the belief that should a family be unable to settle their dispute at mediation or via negotiation, arbitration is a process that can be tailored to the needs presented by your unique case. The fact that there is a cost to arbitration should not stop you from looking into the process. It can be an investment into a conflict free future for your family and, frequently, will result in a greater cost saving than going to court.

Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult with a qualified attorney for guidance specific to your situation.