If you and your partner have separated, agreeing who should benefit from time with your child over the school holidays can be difficult. Most parents want to benefit from quality time with their child in the sunshine and away from the stress of everyday living. For some parents this turns into a disagreement about how long a holiday period should last, but for others, agreement cannot even be reached about whether that holiday time should include overnight stays. Matters can become even more complicated with work schedules to juggle, and sometimes other children to consider. So what do you do if you cannot reach agreement? Mediation is an option if you think you can agree with assistance, but if not you are left with two options – court or arbitration.
What is the court process?
Should you decide to go to court you would issue an application for a child arrangements order. The issue fee for this is £215. The court process then typically involves two or three hearings. The first time at court will be for a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA). At this hearing you will be assisted by someone from CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory Service) whose job it is to make recommendations to the court based on what is best for your child. The court may direct that you and the other parent file statements so that everyone is clear what the arguments for and against each proposal are. The second hearing will be a Dispute Resolution Appointment (DRA) at which the parents are expected to try to negotiate an agreement to their dispute. The court may also try to assist in reaching an agreement by giving its own view. If agreement is not reached the case will be listed for a final hearing at which you and the other parent give evidence to the court and are asked asked questions by the other parent. At any or all of these hearings parents can be represented by a solicitor or a barrister. You can now employ a barrister direct (ie without a solicitor) if you prefer – all of the barristers on this website are available to be instructed directly. The reason for this is usually to try to save money. Each court is different, but the latest figures indicate that disputes between parents about their children are taking on average 6 months to reach a final hearing (source: Ministry of Justice). The other matter to consider is that your case might be adjourned at short notice to allow another case to be heard.
Arbitration as an alternative to the court process.
So what is the alternative if you are not able to wait 6 months for an order, or if you simply want to save some time and money? The alternative is arbitration – the ‘private court’. Arbitration is a scheme where you and your partner use a specialist family lawyer to decide your dispute for you. You can find out more about arbitration here, but please note that arbitration does not cover holidays outside of England and Wales. The benefits of arbitration, particularly if you have a dispute about holiday contact are:
- Your case can be heard very quickly by the arbitrator, in a matter of days
- You will only need to have one hearing to sort out holiday contact and you will get a decision within 7 days
- Your case will be heard at a time and place that suits you and the other parent (for example barristers’ chambers or solicitors’ offices), including outside of office hours
- Your case will not be in a list of cases to be dealt; the arbitrator will deal with only your case on the day and the arbitration will start on time
- You will know in advance how much the entire case is going to cost you because fees are fixed
- If you and the other parent don’t want to attend for a hearing, you can agree to send statements and any relevant supporting documents (eg holiday details, work schedules, school calendars) to the arbitrator who can decide the case on paper.
- You can choose to represent yourself if you want to have a hearing (arbitration is less formal and therefore less stressful than court), or you can use a solicitor or a barrister
- The whole process will save you time, money and stress
If you would like to book one of our arbitrators to determine your holiday contact dispute, or one of our barristers to represent you in an arbitration or at court please contact the clerks in our Brighton office on 01273 81 00 11 or via our online contact form. They are also able to assist in answering any queries you may have about the arbitration process.
Julie Stather MCIArb | Family Arbitration
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