Most people dread the prospect of going to court to resolve disputes about children. Courts are intimidating places and both the process and the drain on your bank account seem endless. The Children Arbitration Scheme, regulated by the Institute of Family Law Arbitrators (IFLA) is a real alternative. This is how it works and what it can do for you.
You and the person you are in dispute with appoint an arbitrator as your chosen judge to make an independent decision about your disagreement over your children. You can of course go to the Family Court if you prefer, but if you choose to appoint an arbitrator, you can save both time and money.
An arbitrator can help you with disputes about where the children should live, how much time they should spend with parents and other family members, and schooling issues. These are the most common sorts of dispute. Children arbitrators can’t help with care proceedings or applications to take children abroad.
Advantages of arbitration
There are many benefits of asking an arbitrator to resolve your dispute. The fees can be fixed. You choose your own judge, who will be a senior barrister or solicitor specialising in children law and will also be a fully qualified arbitrator accredited and regulated by IFLA. The arbitrator applies the same law as is applied in the Family Court. The hearing will be more relaxed. You can have a lawyer to represent you, but arbitration is perfectly suited for people representing themselves as the formalities of the court do not apply. You can choose which issues you would like the arbitrator to decide. The decision of the arbitrator is intended to be binding because that’s what you will have agreed and appointed the arbitrator for. It’s very difficult to appeal against an arbitrator’s decision, as is the case in the Family Court.
You will get an early hearing date within days or weeks, rather than waiting months to get a court date. The arbitration can be held outside of office hours to suit you at a suitable venue of your choice away from the stressful court environment. You will get a written decision with detailed reasons. The decision will be made and sent out to you within a short time after the hearing, perhaps within a week. At around £2,500, with each side paying just half of that figure, the cost of the service is much less than going to the Family Court, which can be up to and beyond an eye-watering £15,000.
Your case will be heard and decided at just one main hearing lasting no more than one day. If the issue is a simple one, and if the person you are in dispute with agrees, you can each send a written document to the arbitrator instead of attending in person. If the case is more complicated, a planning meeting can be held by telephone or dealt with on paper before the main arbitration. Your arbitration will start at a set time rather than you being kept waiting whilst other cases are dealt with. The arbitrator will know all about your case as he or she will have read the papers that you provide in advance. The whole thing is completely private as the public are not allowed in. Finally, you can apply to the Family Court for an enforceable court order in the same terms as the arbitrator’s decision. The Family Court is very likely to agree to make the order because it’s by consent of the parties and follows a non-court dispute resolution procedure. If you make your application within 4 months of the arbitration, you don’t have to attend a MIAM (mediation), which you normally would have to do if you had made an application to court instead of going to arbitration.
In the Family Court final resolution of disputes can take as long as a year, with many hearings, each incurring sizeable fees for legal representation.
Private Children Arbitration is a long overdue solution to many of the cost and delay problems that are overwhelming those who have had to go to court to resolve their children disputes.
The family barristers on this website are able to represent you at arbitrations and you will also see arbitrators who you could choose to determine your dispute. If you would like to appoint a barrister or an arbitrator please contact our clerks for a simple guide to the process and an idea of fees.
Julie Stather MCIArb | Family Arbitration