April 13, 2012

All you need to know about family law arbitration

The family law arbitration scheme has settled nicely into place eight weeks after being launched. In the interim much has been written about its benefits, not least of which is that it will be quicker and simpler than the court process – and a good deal less emotionally upsetting for all concerned.

Arbitration enables couples to resolve family disputes out of court by appointing an experienced, specially trained family lawyer to arbitrate. As just such a lawyer – in fact, the first in Leeds and one of only four in Yorkshire – Jones Myers partner Peter Jones responds to some common questions he has been asked about the new scheme.

How did this role come about? 

For many years there has been a view by practitioners that there ought to be arbitration in family law matters; however there has been no “organisation” to produce appropriate rules acceptable by the family law profession and the courts generally. It is the coming together of Resolution, the Family Law Bar Association (FLBA) and the Institute of Chartered Arbitrators that has enabled the Institute of Family Law Arbitrators (IFLA) to become a reality with appropriate rules. 

How important is this in the development of the legal profession?

It is an amazing development: a fundamental shift in how family law matters can be resolved. It also brings the process in line with civil proceedings.

How does arbitration fit with mediation and collaborative family law?

It sits comfortably with both. It is quite possible that during the course of either of those two methods of dispute resolution, discrete issues could become contentious, and an arbitrator could resolve those issues expeditiously. It is in reality another form of dispute resolution. 

Does this measure go far enough? 

Yes, it does. It will require some time to “bed down” and I’m confident it will evolve to be a spectacularly good piece of dispute resolution.

How much quicker and more efficient than the courts will this process be?  

It can be as quick and efficient as you like. The parties control the process; they can regulate what they require to be produced; they can deal with the matter as a discrete issue or a full  hearing. Because the arbitrators are in private practice they will be more readily available and prepared to sit outside conventional court times. Arbitration will also be cheaper because it will not be subject to as many delays as the court process, and there will be a reduced requirement for lengthy correspondence.

What did your training involve?

I was in the first tranche of arbitrators, who undertook three days of intensive tuition in London – covering both black letter law and the skills of arbitration. There is no doubt that my experience as a judge and mediator assisted in the process.

What qualities to arbitrators require? 

Patience, understanding and an ability to assimilate facts quickly will be vital qualities. It will also be crucial to retain a balanced view and be able to control meetings – again, this is where my mediation training will be invaluable. And, of course, there is a requirement to have a good academic and intellectual understanding of the law as it applies to England and Wales

Do you have any questions about family law arbitration? Comment below or email us here.