Christmas is just around the corner, as any trip to the supermarket or shopping centre will tell you. Aside from worrying about getting hold of this year’s ‘must have’ toy, another concern for separated parents is when they will see their children over the Christmas period. If discussion with the other parent, with or without the help of a mediator, is unlikely to resolve matters there are two options available to you – the Family Court or a Family Arbitrator.
Applying to the Court for Christmas contact arrangements is a route which is well known to solicitors and barristers across the country. If your case is already in proceedings, you should speak to your solicitor or direct access barrister now about sorting out Christmas arrangements. If you are lucky the Court may still be able to list your case for a hearing before Christmas. If you have not yet issued proceedings, it is highly unlikely that the Court will now be able to hear your case before Christmas. Many Court centres across the country are facing delays of 3 months or more before cases come before them for a first hearing.
A highly effective alternative available to you is to use a Family Arbitrator. Arbitrators are experienced family law specialists (solicitors or barristers) who are qualified and approved to make binding decisions in cases concerning children. You can find out more about the scheme at IFLA.org.uk. You and the other parent can either agree on a particular Arbitrator or ask the Institute of Family Law Arbitrators (IFLA) to nominate an Arbitrator local to you. Each parent then takes the following simple steps:
- Sign an agreement to arbitrate
- Agree a fee with the Arbitrator’s clerk
- Prepare and send statements for the Arbitrator which set out what you think should happen over the Christmas and New Year Holiday and why
- Either attend for a short hearing with the Arbitrator, or ask for a written decision to be sent to you
The benefits of arbitrating your Christmas contact arrangements are:
- There will be a fixed fee which is agreed in advance, is shared equally between the parents (unless they agree some other division of costs) and is much less expensive than going to Court with representation. (The fee to issue Court proceedings is currently £215.)
- The Arbitrator’s decision (which is known as a Determination) can be with you within 48 hours of your statements being received by the Arbitrator. That is quite something!
- If you choose to attend the Arbitration in person, it can be arranged at short notice and at a time and place to suit you and the other parent. You can attend the Arbitration with legal representation or by yourself – an Arbitration is a much less stressful experience than a Court hearing. Your case will be the only one that day.
- The Arbitration Agreement sets out that the Determination is binding on both parties.
The clerks at 1COR are taking bookings now for Christmas contact Arbitrations and can assist with any queries you may have about the scheme. Please contact them for details and to find out about the fixed fees.
Julie Stather MCIArb | Arbitration