Disagreements within a family, especially when the care and residency of children is involved, can be complex and aren’t always resolved amicably or easily. If the relationship between parents or those with parental responsibility breaks down and there need to be decisions made about things like where a child lives, who they spend time with and where they go to school, this can sometimes cause real disagreements that mean the family can’t start to move forward with their lives until there is resolution in these areas. Using a mediation service can sometimes help families to work out these issues; but, if not, it might be the case that arbitration in family disputes can be the catalyst to resolving the problems.
What is family law arbitration?
In 2016, the Family Law Arbitration Children Scheme was launched in England and Wales. It essentially offers families a voluntary route to try and resolve their child-related disputes without having to go to court.
If all of the involved parties agree to arbitrate and can agree on the specific areas covered, they also agree to abide by the final decision of the arbitrator. Using arbitration in family disputes has been possible since the 2012 launch of the Family Law Arbitration Scheme, but the 2016 Children Scheme enables it now to be used in a very specific way to resolve child-related issues.
About the child and family arbitration process
A main benefit of using arbitration for family disputes involving children is that this route is designed to obtain a prompt decision, in a cost-effective way, which can make a big difference to everyone involved.
Arbitration is a confidential process (judgements are not reported on) and can be carried out on a timescale and in a location that is suited to the parties involved, rather than being limited to the schedule and venues operated by the Courts. Arbitration gives all parties involved a level of autonomy with regard to the situation, as they are able to choose the arbitrator who will make the final decision. For these reasons, arbitration is seen as a worthwhile option for many families who want to get the child-related dispute settled as quickly and effectively as possible, without the need for a court case.
If the case is considered as suitable for child arbitration, this type of dispute resolution can be used to determine things such as child arrangements (or changing existing arrangements), outline the specifics of contact arrangements, holiday contact, where they go to school, whether they should undergo certain medical treatments and can also now (since being updated in April 2020) determine issues around children going on holidays abroad or permanently moving to specified countries and jurisdictions.
The arbitration itself can be carried out either by way of hearings or by paper determination (i.e. by letter rather than meeting in person) or a combination of the two. This has to be agreed by all parties before the process can begin and with everyone agreeing to abide by the final decision, there are very few grounds to appeal afterwards.
The arbitrator will usually suggest an initial meeting at the start of the process, to discuss the specific issues and scope that the arbitration will be required to cover. Once this has been determined and all parties agree to the terms and conditions of the arbitrator, the process can commence.
If appropriate, the arbitrator can ask the parties involved to instruct an independent social worker to find out the feelings and wishes of the child or children that is the subject of the dispute, to ensure that their voice is part of the arbitration process.
There may be several sessions if experts are required to provide statements or evidence as well as each party presenting their own evidence. Once all of the evidence has been heard, the arbitrator will make their decision on the case.
It’s generally the case that once the arbitration decision has been made, the parties involved will submit an order to the court that gives details of what has been agreed, so that this can be made into an enforceable court order.
Arbitrators tend to be highly experienced and specially trained legal professionals, such as family barristers or solicitors. They need to undergo specialist child and family arbitration training in order to be a fully qualified arbitrator in cases related to matters involving children.
The parties should all agree on the selection of the individual arbitrator for their case before the process can commence.
Child and family arbitration costs
A major benefit to arbitration is that it can be very cost effective in comparison to taking the disputes to court. It is necessary to pay the arbitrator, but the comparative speed of the process and the ability to streamline it to meet your specific circumstances means that the issues can often be resolved in a way that minimises the costs.
As every case is different, it isn’t possible to give an accurate cost without knowing more about the scope of the decisions that need to be made and the specific circumstances involved. For example, some cases may include an expert (such as an independent social worker) which will be an additional cost. There may also be individual legal costs for any party, which they pay for themselves, to factor in.
Contact our team for more information and we will be able to provide an estimate of costs once we have properly assessed your case. Call us on 023 8071 8000 to speak to our child and family arbitration team.
Are all family disputes suitable for arbitration?
Not every kind of family dispute involving a child will be suitable for family law arbitration in the UK.
Any case where there are safeguarding issues involved, or where there is domestic abuse, substance misuse or mental illness that impacts the ability of one or more parties to safely care for the child or children, will not be suitable for arbitration. Where one of more party is considered vulnerable, it may also mean that arbitration isn’t suitable. This is because all parties must have the ability to provide informed consent for the arbitration process and to abide by the decision made. If this ability is limited, family arbitration in the UK won’t be deemed a suitable route for resolving the dispute.
If there are any life-changing or life-threatening issues involved with the dispute, or anything related to child abduction by one of the parties, the case will not be suitable for arbitration.
Before child arbitration can commence in England or Wales, all of the involved parties will need to provide information about safeguarding and undergo a police check, as well as a check from the Disclosure and Barring Service (since April 2020) to make sure that the case is suitable for arbitration.
Why choose Moore Barlow for child and family arbitration services?
At Moore Barlow, we have a highly experienced family law team who can help with any aspect of the arbitration process. We can offer you expert legal support and help you with arbitration to help bring about a swift resolution to the dispute that is holding things back. We have offices in London, Richmond, Southampton, Guildford, Lymington and Woking.
We understand that any disputes involving children can be very stressful and difficult to resolve, with often complex factors and circumstances to consider, but you can rest assured that Moore Barlow can assist you in a way that is both empathetic and professional.
We always do our utmost to ensure that our clients are fully informed about the status of their case at all times and what to expect from the process. We are dedicated to helping our clients achieve the best possible outcome, offering whatever specialist advice and support is needed. To discuss a potential arbitration case or simply to find out more about the process so that you find out if it might be able to work for you, please contact our team by calling 023 8071 8000.