Launched in July 2016, the Family Law Arbitration Children Scheme promised, in the words of IFLA Chair Rt Hon Lord Falconer of Thoroton, to "enable couples to resolve disputes concerning parental responsibility of children more quickly, cheaply and in a more flexible, less formal setting than a court room".
Two months on, the first children arbitration has now taken place, and it certainly seems to affirm Lord Falconer’s claim.
As arbitration is completely private and confidential, there are few details available regarding the case at hand. However, Family Law Week reports that it "concerned a dispute between parents about child arrangements, specific issues and general exercise of parental responsibility." The dispute was referred to arbitration due to the need for a speedy resolution, with the court unable to offer a hearing date for almost three months.
From the date of referral, it took just ten days for the parties to reach a final decision in the first children arbitration. This exemplifies just one potential benefit of arbitration -matters can be resolved much faster than within the clogged up public sector courts.
In addition to speed and confidentiality, arbitration allows parties to exercise more control over proceedings. Rather than a judge being allocated to the case, the parties are able to select an arbitrator of their own choosing and can thus guarantee that he or she will possess the specialist knowledge relevant to their matter.
Furthermore, arbitration can be significantly less expensive than going through the court process. As trainee Vardags solicitor Kathryn Mason points out in her examination of alternative dispute resolution, whilst "the parties to the arbitration will need to agree a limit on the arbitrator’s fees, perhaps pay for a neutral venue, expert reports and their own solicitor’s legal fees...given the speed with which an arbitration can be set up, costs can be saved as the legal process could take a matter of months as opposed to years (in some cases)".
Family law arbitration has, since its 2012 launch, been available to those wishing to resolve financial matters out of court. However, the new Family Law Arbitration Children Scheme extends this offering to cover "all private law Children Act disputes between parents", bar the following exceptions:
As this suggests, though arbitration can be the best approach for some child matters, those with more complex disputes may be obliged to go through the courts.
That said, if children arbitration is able to ease the burden of the courts, those with matters which do require judicial oversight can hopefully be satisfactorily resolved in a more timely manner.
To find out whether arbitration could be right for you, take a look at our family law guide.