Vardags director Catherine Thomas wrote for the international website The Global Legal Post about the firm’s pioneering use of arbitration.
Highlighting the administrative problems which plague the family courts, she explained:
“The courts are suffering from a two-pronged attack: The funding of legal aid for family cases has recently been reduced to almost extinction, forcing those who can’t afford to pay for legal advice to stumble their way through a maze of complex law and procedure. The courts themselves have also had their funding significantly cut, leading to a loss of vital and experienced staff. There are therefore insufficient judges and court staff to deal with court’s usual workload and the influx of divorcees representing themselves and making (understandable) errors is clogging the system even further.”
Arbitration, which first developed in the commercial courts, allows parties to pick their own judge and venue. “Each party is represented by the lawyers of their choosing who argue their case in front of the specially-selected arbitrator (often a retired judge). The couple are encouraged to reach a settlement even once the arbitration has started, but if the arbitrator does have to make a final decision, the parties will be bound by it and it will usually be turned into a court order,” she explained.
Catherine concluded by highlighting the importance privacy aspects of arbitration – “In a world where the public (and therefore the press) are fascinated by the details of other people’s divorces, even if they are not in the public eye, it seems inevitable that the discreet and swift process of arbitration will increasingly be seen as a sanctuary for separating couples.”